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Arnie: Man above myth and legend

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

(Editor’s note: Sept. 10, 2014 was Arnold Palmer’s 85th birthday. Today, Sept. 10, 2017, would have been the King's 88th. We celebrated Golf Channel’s co-founder over multiple articles, which are linked to throughout this story, focusing on all aspects of his remarkable life and career. Click here for the complete list.)

LATROBE, Pa. – As soon as he pauses … you know the question has him.

This response, if offered honestly, requires a level of introspection, and introspection at 85 years old can dig deep and touch all kinds of nerves.

Four, five, six seconds pass …

He can’t speak with his mouth so he lets his hands to the talking – a thumbs-up. There’s no mistaking what that means: The words are there; they just can’t come out at the moment. But they will, and everything is fine.

As Arnold Palmer makes his second attempt to answer, this unexpectedly emotional response takes hold again.

And there, there in the right corner of his right eye sets a tear, welled up and shimmering in the camera lights. You just can’t look away at this moment. Golf’s most masculine of men is trying – fighting – to not cry.

This isn’t weakness we are witnessing; this is nostalgia, a heart-felt appreciation for a prodigious life lived.

What does it do to you, to walk into this office every day?

That’s the question. That’s the one that got him.

Mr. Palmer’s office is magnificent, in part because it is so understated. Neither the exterior design nor the interior space seems fit for a king. But Mr. Palmer never clung much to that moniker, anyway.

Tucked away a short, uphill cart ride from Latrobe CC, his signature umbrella logo decorates the entrance.

Then you walk in and see stuff everywhere. You just hope it’s the good stuff. And it is.

Turn right and look straight ahead: a Masters Tournament trophy, the silver replica of the Augusta National clubhouse. It’s just sitting there, unconfined.

On the back wall, trophies. Let’s see: '60 U.S. Open; Ryder Cup replica from the '95 dinner; '80 U.S. Senior Open; '62 British Open claret jug; '54 Havemeyer for winning the U.S. Am.

All exposed and just begging to be touched. It’s OK. It would be criminal not to run your fingers along the base or let your hands grip the neck. You think this opportunity is going to happen again?

Everywhere you look there is something that needs to be seen: keys to various cities; major badges; Ryder Cup patches and bags; wall collections of magazine appearances; more crystal than Swarovski.

And the pièce de résistance: an 8-foot vertical case containing Mr. Palmer’s Congressional Gold Medal; Medal of Freedom; awards presented by presidents and foreign dignitaries; and resting above them all, the Hickok Belt, which from 1950-76 was awarded annually to the top professional athlete in all of sport. Arnold Palmer reigned in 1960.

Arnold Palmer discusses his father and lessons learned

Click here for the full collection of 'Arnie' stories

Little wonder he gets teary-eyed thinking about this place. He wakes up in the morning, gives wife Kit a kiss and off he goes to his office.

“And I do go,” he says with emphasis.

His life is in this building. His accomplishments are there to be absorbed. Photographs of his family adorn the walls of his office proper. Across a short walkway are hundreds upon hundreds of golf clubs (mostly Callaway), combined with other golf artifacts and Pittsburgh team sports memorabilia.

If that’s not enough, this is home. This is where he was born and raised, the oldest of four kids to Milfred “Deacon” and Doris Palmer. Born on this day – Sept. 10 – 85 years ago.

The Palmers, by Arnold’s admission, were poor but lived modestly. If you don’t have much, you make do with what you have. Deacon taught that to his first-born boy.

This is how you eat your food. This is how you behave. Better act like somebody. Yes, sir. No, ma’am.

Those are the basics. You let them be your foundation. Oh, you might not like it now, but you will, boy. It’ll mean something when you get older.

Pap was right.

“Put your hands here and here,” he commanded as he molded his son’s grip on a cut-down golf club. “Now look at that and remember it. Don’t ever change.”

That’s one of Arnold’s first memories. Even then, at 3 years old, he knew Pap was not one to be disobeyed.

Remember running around in those western Pennsylvania woods, guns a-blazin’? Sometimes you’d play cowboys, sometimes you’d take that makeshift club and hit anything resembling a golf ball.

Those are the memories. The ones that cause pause.

And those hands. Those mighty hands, hardened and strengthened by farm work and fist fights, chin-ups and rope climbing.

Jack Nicklaus said those hands were born to hold a golf club. Gotta figure he’d know. Have two athletes been more intrinsically linked than the both of you?

Those hands. Lord, the thrills. Taking that visor and whipping it off your head after winning the ’60 U.S. Open. Could be the most indelible image in golf history. Certainly in the top five.

The pain they caused, as well.


DON’T DO IT, ARNOLD! Remember what Pap said: Don’t get ahead of yourself; finish the job.

But you can’t resist the siren call from a friend in the gallery. You’ve gotta shake that hand and thank him. And so a one-shot lead on the final hole in the ’61 Masters turns into a one-stroke defeat.

It wasn’t all about wins and losses, though. Mark McCormack knew that.

When the two of you shook hands and agreed to work together he didn’t market you as Arnold Palmer the Great Champion. You were Arnold Palmer, All-American.

You weren’t just a golfer; more than a Hall of Fame golfer. You were a business man, a family man, a leader of men, an aviator, an architect and a philanthropist. You were a TV pioneer, Brando in steel spikes. And when cigarettes were deemed dangerous, you knew what you had to do, because you were a role model, too.

Age and opportunity haven’t changed things. You are still all of those things to all of the people you’ve touched.

Along those lines, has anyone ever shaken more hands than you? Those big catcher’s mitt hands of yours. To shake them means something – to you and others. They swallow the average man’s hands, but don’t overwhelm them. There is a comfort in your handshake. Maybe it’s because you look a person in the eye when you shake their hand. That matters. It’s a basic manner, something Pap taught you.

You built your life on the foundation your father set: treat others the way you want to be treated; sign your name so people can read it; take your hat off when you enter a building.

So simple, but these things matter.

And people matter. You played for them as much as for yourself, maybe more so. And be it peasant or president, you give each person the same thing: your attention. Do you know how much that is worth to an individual? To meet someone so admired, so worldly famous and for them to care … about you?

You’ve passed down so much over the years. Lee Trevino says today’s players should say a prayer of thanks for you every night. If only your manners could cross generational lines.

Remember that time when you were about to hit a tee shot and a woman came running up, asking for your autograph in the middle of your swing? You came to a screeching halt … looked that woman dead in her eyes … and said, of course. And when she said thank you, you responded, thank you for asking.

You probably don’t remember that, since it wasn’t a one-time thing. But those who witness such things do.

And now here you are, in your office, in a chair, under the lights. Those big, strong hands, once resting comfortably on your lap, now clenched. And after a second, and a third attempt you are able to answer.

What does it do to you, to walk into this office every day?

“Very important,” you say. “I come into this office and it starts my day. It makes me think of all the things I enjoy in my life.”

When the interview concludes, you finally relent and wipe away those tears with those distinguished hands of yours.

Outside of the office it’s a very bright day at Latrobe CC. Very blue. A steady breeze sweeps away the falling elm leaves.

And here you come, later in the afternoon, driving up to the back porch in your golf cart. Two bags strapped in, but no golf to be played today. You stop and look to your right.

“Mr. Palmer,” a youngish man acknowledges.

“How are you?” you reply.

“Just fine, thank you. Yourself?”

“Oh, I’m doing just fine as well.”

This time, there is no hesitation.

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Still no indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted the Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

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Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

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Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.

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Slumbers: Mickelson penalty 'not good for the game'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 11:44 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said that Phil Mickelson’s controversial penalty at the U.S. Open was not “good for the game,” but he did not say explicitly whether the ruling would have been any different at The Open.

Speaking Wednesday at his annual address, Slumbers said that he spoke with Mickelson last week about the incident. At Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson hit a moving ball in the third round but was not disqualified for a breach of etiquette. Instead, he received a two-shot penalty under Rule 14-5.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“In the event of a similar situation this week, clearly, the first thing is you understand the facts because you never get the same situation and there will be lots of reasons,” Slumbers said. “But we have looked very carefully at the rules, and I don’t think it was good for the game and not the right way to have played this wonderful sport, and we would make a decision based on the facts of any incident that happened later in the week.”

Rule 1-2, which includes a clause for disqualification, was not used because the infraction is covered under another rule.

“Let’s also remember that it’s a moot point for next year,” Slumbers said, “because as of the first of January 2019, there would have been a DQ option in that equivalent rule.”