Meeting the King for the first time

By Joe PosnanskiSeptember 10, 2016, 3:40 pm

About 25 years ago – sheesh, really, 25 years? – I covered my first Masters. It was, coincidentally, the first golf tournament I had ever covered. I had been hired blindly as columnist for the Augusta Chronicle because, well, you’d have to ask them. I had never played a round of golf. And my only experience as a golf writer was the community golf notebook I would do for York Observer in Rock Hill, S.C., and even that I messed up routinely. I remember once talking to one of the organizers of a local charity golf tournament, and he was explaining to me that it was a Captain’s Choice tournament.

“What’s that?” I asked. He explained the Captain’s Choice format – all players hitting and then everyone playing the best ball – and I was so blown away by the novelty of this that I wrote the first eight paragraphs of the column about this cool new way to play golf. An editor (who was, as she often told me, almost oblivious to golf and sports in general) saved me by pointing out that Captain’s Choice is essentially the most popular charity golf format on planet earth and probably all other planets. She found it both hilarious and frightening that I did not know this.

Still, the Augusta Chronicle – which, you might expect, cares quite a bit about golf – hired me to write sports columns. And that made me the lead columnist for the Augusta paper at the 1992 Masters. It still boggles the mind.

As you might imagine, I was all but helpless leading into the tournament. I had no idea where to go, what to do, who to talk with, how to write any of it.

On the first day, I watched Arnold Palmer come in from his practice round. He was, let’s see here, 62 years old then, still strong, still full of the energy and life that had made him golf’s most iconic figure. I knew him from the Pennzoil commercials, mostly. He had not made the cut at Augusta in a few years but there was still a sense of possibility about him then, still a sense that he just might have one more charge left in him.

He came off the course after that practice round, and he was in the best of spirits, of course. I’m sure he has had his dark moods but in public, he was always ecstatic; his mood always seemed to say, “I’m Arnold Palmer. OF COURSE I’m having a good day.” He answered a couple of reporters’ questions under the marvelous oak tree that stands in front of the Augusta National clubhouse. I wandered over. I supposed that as the columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, I should introduce myself to the King. But I’ve never really been good at that sort of thing.

I waited for everyone to finish. Eventually, the other two or three reporters sort of faded off, and it was just me and Arnie. At this point, it might have been good for me to have a question in mind or an introduction or something, but I did not have any of that so I kind of just stood there and looked at him. It was probably no more than three seconds, but it felt like I stood there silent for about 20 years. Finally, someone spoke, but it wasn’t me. It was Palmer.

“How are you doing today?” he asked me.

I have absolutely no idea why he said that. The normal thing for athletes to do – and by “normal” I mean I have never seen a single other athlete do what Palmer did – is to walk away as soon as the last question is asked. But Palmer stuck around. He somehow sensed that I wanted to talk with him. He somehow sensed that I was nervous. He somehow sensed that he could help me.

His words shook me from the paralysis I’d been feeling, and I introduced myself. I was wearing a badge that said “AUGUSTA CHRONICLE” on it, and I suspect he saw that. He mentioned several of the people at the Chronicle he had known through the years. He told me he thought the paper had always been good to him. He told me the phrase “Arnie’s Army” had started with a headline in the Chronicle (though it had been coined by a G.I. whose name, unfortunately, is lost to history). He told me I had an important legacy to keep. And he asked me what I was planning to write about.

In my own stumbling way, I told him that I wasn’t too knowledgeable about golf. I think I told him this by asking him a series of increasingly dumber questions. He smiled and made a suggestion or two, I don’t remember what those were. I do remember that he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’ll keep my eye on you.”

And for the rest of that tournament, into the next year and the next, whenever I would see Arnold Palmer, whenever our eyes would meet, he would give me a little thumbs up sign. I took that at the time to mean he had read my columns and approved what I was doing but, in retrospect, it probably did not mean that at all. It probably meant simply, “Hey, kid, I remember you.”

Fortunately, the magic works either way.

Arnold Palmer is probably not one of the four greatest players in the history of the game. He’s not Tiger or Jack, he’s not Hogan or Jones, and you can argue on from there. But if there was a Mount Rushmore for golf, he would be on it. He would be on Golf’s Mount Rushmore in part because of the way he played with his jerky swing and his go-for-broke style. He smoked his cigarettes and rode the wind and cheers and the momentum. He simply changed the way people looked at the game as a spectator sport. He made the game thrilling.

He would be on Golf’s Mount Rushmore in part because of the way he lit up the television screen. Golf on television made no sense to a lot of people in the 1950s; the sport seemed too massive and too undramatic for television. Then came the King. “The cameras loved Palmer,” the legendary sports television producer Frank Chirkinian said. “He would show up on the screen and it was like: ‘WHAM!'”

And Arnold Palmer would be on Golf’s Mount Rushmore mostly because of the way he engaged with people. He chatted with the crowd. He made them feel a part of his successes … and his failures. He was just a regular guy, a factory worker or auto mechanic or longshoreman who happened to play golf. He took the sport out of the country clubs. He inspired countless people to buy a golf club at yard sales and swing at a few whiffle balls in the back yard.

Arnie turns 87 today, and I think about many things, but I especially think about his kindness. Years later, I mentioned to him our first meeting. He smiled as if he remembered, though he surely did not, and he said: “Well, you turned out OK.” And then he walked off to make someone else’s life a little bit brighter.

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Na holding out hope for Ryder Cup captain's pick

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – There are no shortage of goals for players as the PGA Tour reaches the final month of the season, and how players prioritize those accomplishments depends on individual motivations.

For example, coming into the season Kevin Na’s primary goal was to win a Tour event, which he accomplished last month at the Greenbrier. After that, things get interesting.

“I think win, No. 1. Ryder Cup, No. 2. Tour Championship, No. 3,” he said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust.

Na is currently 19th on the FedExCup point list, which gives him a good chance to qualify for the season finale, which comes with an invitation to three of next year’s four majors. The more pressing concern would be this year’s Ryder Cup.


The Northern Trust: Articles, photos and videos


Na finish 18th on the U.S. Ryder Cup point list and he would likely need to do something extraordinary the next two weeks for captain Jim Furyk to make him one of his picks. Still, making the team that will travel to Paris next month is always on his short list.

“If I can somehow get my name on one of those lists of players that play the Ryder Cup; maybe at the end of my career, instead of saying, you know, you probably say, I had X amount of wins; and I played X amount of Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, I think is pretty cool,” said Na, who has never played on a Ryder or Presidents Cup team.

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Woods tinkering with driver shaft, loft at The Northern Trust

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:11 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – Tiger Woods said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust that he spent last week attending his children’s soccer games and tinkering with his driver.

Although he finished runner-up at the PGA Championship, Woods hit just 5 of 14 fairways on Sunday at Bellerive and ranked 74th for the week in fairways hit. It was no surprise that his focus heading into the FedExCup Playoffs was finding more fairways.

“We've been working on it, experimenting with different shafts and different lofts on my driver and 3-wood, as well,” Woods said. “Just trying different things. I've still got two more days and I'll still be monkeying around with a couple things and come game time we'll see what I go with.”


The Northern Trust: Articles, photos and videos


Woods played an abbreviated practice round on Tuesday at Ridgewood Country Club, which included Nos. 1-8 and Nos. 15-18, with a new driver that features a different shaft from the one he used at the PGA Championship and more loft (9.5 degrees).

He also had a TaylorMade equipment representative walking with him on Tuesday and went to the practice range after his round for more work.

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English confident in playoff run after just sneaking in

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2018, 9:07 pm

PARAMUS, N.J. – Harris English didn’t know the exact math, only that he needed to play his best final round of the season last week at the Wyndham Championship.

Although it wasn’t perfect, English’s closing 68 was good enough to tie for 11th place and vault him from 132nd on the season-long point race to 124th and into the playoffs.

“It was definitely a bit of a pressure-packed situation coming down the stretch. Different than, really, winning a golf tournament,” English said on Tuesday at The Northern Trust, the postseason lid-lifter. “It felt like Q-School again back in 2011 where you're in the sixth round and trying to get it done.”


The Northern Trust: Articles, photos and videos


Despite three-putts on three of his final nine holes, English earned his seventh consecutive trip to the postseason and some much needed confidence after a tough year.

English had just two top-10 finishes this season and spent the majority of the summer mired around the playoff bubble (No. 125).

“Being 124 right now, I need another really good week this week to make it to Boston [the second playoff stop],” he said. “I like where I am. I have a lot of confidence from last week. Struck the ball well and kind of did everything to put the ball in great position. If I can do that again this week, that would be a heck of a week.”

Nick Taylor also played his way into the top 125 last week, finishing tied for eighth place at Sedgefield Country Club to move from No. 129 to No. 119.

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Veterans look to regain status at Web Finals

By Will GrayAugust 21, 2018, 7:19 pm

The last time a FedExCup playoff event was held at Ridgewood Country Club, Hunter Mahan left with the trophy. This time around, he's in Ohio hoping to reinstate his PGA Tour status.

While the postseason kicks off in New Jersey, more than 100 players will tee it up in the first of four Web.com Tour Finals events with an eye on earning one of 25 PGA Tour cards available for the 2018-19 season. This week's event is the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship in Columbus, Ohio, with subsequent stops in Beachwood, Ohio, Boise, Idaho and Atlantic Beach, Fla.

Mahan played this past season on his status as a past PGA Tour champion, making 12 cuts in 21 starts. But those results left him at No. 159 in the final FedExCup standing, with only the top 125 securing cards for next season.

That put Mahan among the group of players finishing Nos. 126-200 on the points list who are eligible to play in the Finals, although Nos. 126-150 will still have conditional PGA Tour status next season regardless of Finals performance. They'll be joined over the next four events by Nos. 1-75 on the Web.com Tour money list from the 2018 season, with Nos. 1-25 already guaranteed a promotion for next season.

Other notable PGA Tour veterans in the field for the first Finals event include Stuart Appleby, Lucas Glover, Ben Crane, Sangmoon Bae, Robert Streb and Johnson Wagner. Also in the field are Aaron Baddeley, David Lingmerth, Fabian Gomez, Matt Every and Peter Malnati, all of whom saw multiple-year exemptions for wins in 2015 and 2016 expire at last week's Wyndham Championship.

Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, both of whom lost their fully-exempt status last week in Greensboro, are not in this week's field. They finished Nos. 144 and 140, respectively, in the FedExCup standings meaning that both players will still have conditional PGA Tour status next season.

PGA Tour non-members who earned at least the equivalent of No. 200 in regular-season points are also invited, a group that includes European Tour member Julian Suri, former NCAA standout Dylan Meyer, recent Monday qualifiers John Oda and Chase Seiffert, and veteran John Peterson, who has stated he will retire from professional golf at age 29 if he doesn't earn back his card.

In addition to the top 25 from the regular season Web.com money list, the top 25 earners from the four-event Finals will be fully exempt next season on the PGA Tour. With each event boasting a $1 million purse with $180,000 to the winner, it means that a top-5 finish at any single event will be enough to clinch a card.

Players who fall short of that mark will still receive status on the Web.com Tour for 2019, although players like Mahan who have won on the PGA Tour before can still afford themselves some starts on the main circuit via past champion status.