Arnie: Palmer, the presidents' man

By Jason CrookSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

Since the dawn of politicians in the United States, there has been a constant battle among them over every decision imaginable for the greater good of the country.

One thing they can (almost) all agree on, however, is Arnold Palmer. When Palmer became the sixth athlete, and only the second golfer, to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 for “recognition of his service to the country in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship,” the bill passed 422–1 in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

“I’m particularly proud of anything the House and the Senate agree on,” Palmer joked at the time. But it’s no laughing matter: Palmer is a unifying figure, and one thing the men in charge of running this nation have agreed on the last 60 years or so - they all want to be friends with Arnie.

It started in 1958. Palmer, then 28, had just won his first major, a one-stroke victory at the Masters, when he got a message that President Dwight D. Eisenhower would like to play golf the next day at Augusta if he could “spare the time.”

“We played and we became friends. He was president of the United States then and we started hanging out together and I’d meet him for golf and we played some exhibitions for the Heart Fund because he was a heart patient and that was part our business,” Palmer said.

Winnie Palmer even surprised her husband by sending his plane to transport Eisenhower from Gettysburg to Latrobe for Arnie’s 37th birthday celebration.

Arnold Palmer and his relationship with presidents

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"Quite frankly, I don’t know when I’ve had a better time," Palmer told Kingdom magazine of the experience. “We had a ball. He was just so accommodating and what a wonderful man he was. We talked for hours, just sat at a table and talked and it was a lifelong friendship from then on.”

Lifelong friends and trendsetters.

Since that first encounter with Eisenhower, Palmer’s circle of golf buddies has grown into something that sounds like it came out of a fourth-grade history textbook: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Even John F. Kennedy, who was notoriously hesitant about being seen and photographed on a golf course for political reasons, made a tape of his golf swing in 1963 and intended to invite Palmer to the White House to critique it. First, however, Kennedy had a scheduled trip to Dallas.

An outspoken conservative Republican heavily influenced by his friendship with Eisenhower, Palmer's time spent on the course with Nixon, Ford, Reagan and both Bushes seems to make perfect sense. But Palmer’s presidential playing partners made it sound like the conversation never even included politics.

“Palmer likes to identify with good golfers and I’m sure that’s why he is my friend,” George H.W. Bush deadpanned. “He’s abided by the ‘no laughing' rule, which is a very serious rule that I invoke on everybody that plays with me, and he’s been very good about that. For example the whiffed pitching wedge, he doesn’t ever laugh about that.

“Some of these big-shots are so contemptuous of lousy golfers that they make it no fun in some of those pro-am things, but he relaxes you, no matter how bad you are, no matter how good you are. And that’s not an insignificant attribute.”

Perhaps Palmer's most perplexing presidential golf buddy, at least on paper, is Clinton. In the book “Arnie: Inside the Legend,” Palmer is quoted as saying, “If Clinton wins (this election), I won’t have anything left to will (to my daughters).” And while his political views may be the same today, you wouldn’t know it the way he and Clinton pal around the course.

“I’ve played with him and been honored by him numerous times and he’s a good guy, he’s a great guy, very intelligent and not a bad golfer,” said Palmer. “He can hit it a long way, he just doesn’t have a zip code.”

And it’s not just presidents. Arnie’s Army includes celebrities, too.  It’s no coincidence that Palmer, who gets a lot of the credit for making golf cool, was hobnobbing with some of show business' coolest customers, the “Rat Pack,” in his prime.

“I knew (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.) well, but I didn’t spend a great deal of time with them. I played golf with Martin a few times and with the others in pro-ams they were sponsoring. I enjoyed my time with them,” Palmer told

Palmer’s ability to make an impact across generational lines is best illustrated by the famous company he has kept. Over time the names have changed, but the level of recognition has stayed consistent. Eisenhower became Clinton, Sinatra became Justin Timberlake, Bob Hope became Jay Leno, and Ted Williams became Michael Jordan. LeBron James even named a shoe after him last summer, dubbing it the “LeBronald Palmer.”

And if King James, the best basketball player of his generation, paying homage to a golfer he never saw hit a competitive shot doesn’t convince you that the original King still reigns supreme, then maybe this will do the trick. The lasting image from the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational didn’t have anything to do with the tournament. It was an 83-year-old Palmer planting an innocent kiss on the cheek of a supermodel more than 60 years his junior, Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl Kate Upton. It was actually Arnie who played a big role in her rise to superstardom, as if the world needed another reason to be indebted to Mr. Palmer.

Arnold Palmer and Kate Upton

Arnold Palmer and supermodel Kate Upton (@coribritt)

They followed their lunch at Bay Hill with a photo shoot and cover story for Golf Digest, where Palmer gave the blonde bombshell a swing lesson.

It’s this attitude that has endeared Palmer to so many for so long. Whether he’s on the course, pitching products, meeting new people, founding hospitals and television networks or inventing drinks, Arnie never settles, he is always looking for something new and he does it with a big smile. It’s the reason so many presidents wanted to be his friend and it’s the reason some think he could’ve run for office himself.

“Arnold had a great ability to look you in the eye, sign an autograph and he made you feel like you were the only person in the world that he was dealing with at that moment, which is so special. There are very people few people that,” said two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North. “Years back they were talking about Arnold running for senator and he could’ve won, he could’ve been the senator from Pennsylvania in 10 minutes. He could have been the governor of Pennsylvania and if he’d have done that he probably would have ended up being the president.”

President Palmer … has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? But again, why become president when you're already King?

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Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.

Full-field scores from the American Century Championship

''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.

Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players

The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

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Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

The week was more than nostalgic. 

It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.

Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.

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Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura's main focus going into the Marathon Classic was trying to put together four solid rounds that would help her keep her LPGA card.

She doesn't have to worry about that any longer.

Suwannapura picked up her first win on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at Highland Meadows.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

''I never expect it was going to be today at all. I've just been struggling the whole year,'' said Suwannapura, whose previous best finish was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship. ''Finally all my work I've been doing has come out and shown up today. After I knocked that last putt in, it just felt like a dream come true.''

With the win, the 25-year-old Thai player has an exemption through the 2020 season. She is also the sixth first-time winner on tour this year

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th to finish at 14-under 270. She then had to wait for the final seven groups to finish.

''I did not think or expect that 14 would be good enough, because I know there were two par 5s coming in on 17 and 18, and it's a good opportunity for players to make birdie,'' Suwannapura said. ''I was just chilling in the clubhouse, you know, being silly and stuff, trying to relax, and see what they're doing. Now, like, 'Oh, I have to go warm up and try to win the tournament.'''

Full-field scores from the Marathon Classic

Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out.

Despite having eight career victories, including this season's opener in the Bahamas, the 32-year-old Lincicome said she was extremely nervous standing over that putt.

''I was shaking so bad. I had to take so many deep breaths. So it's kind of cool to have those nerves, but learning how to play through them after 12 years of being a pro ... 14 years of being a pro, I still haven't figured it out, so that's a little disappointing,'' she said. ''(The putt) caught a lot of the hole, so I feel like I hit a pretty good putt for how nervous I was. I really haven't seen one that aggressive in a long time, so that was just unfortunate, really.''

Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship in Kentucky. She will become the first woman since 2004 to play in a PGA Tour event.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

''Sometimes golf is weird. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and that was kind of me the last four holes,'' said Henderson, who lost for only the second time in six occasions she has led after 54 holes.

Besides the tour exemption, Suwannapura's win came with another bonus. She was one of five players to earn a spot in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The top five players not already exempt earned spots. The other qualifiers were Daniela Darquea, Celine Herbin, Mina Harigae and Mel Reid.