Sincerity Part of Palmers Magic

By Mercer BaggsMarch 19, 2006, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- At first I thought it was a bit of magic. But it wasnt. It was sincerity. That was what twinkled in the eyes of Arnold Palmer and emerged from his mouth as his lips turned upwards.
 
Arnold Palmer is a lot of things. And most of all, he is sincere.
 
You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his words.
 
Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer won 62 PGA TOUR events, including seven major championships.
As he stood before the media on the brink of his annual pre-tournament press conference at the Bay Hill Invitational, Palmer looked over the gathering, smiled and said Hello.
 
He then sat down and his first official words were: Well, first of all, welcome and nice to see all of you. I can recall about 27-and-a-half years ago when this room at a press conference had about two people in it. Its nice to see what has happened over those 28 years of this golf tournament.
 
Over the last 28 years, this golf tournament has become one of the premiere events on the PGA TOUR. Its become a must-play for Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh and Ernie Els. And next season, in its 29th year of existence, it will become the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
 
Not a person associated with game deserves to have a tournament named after him or her more so than does Palmer. Tournaments are largely for the fans, the people. Theyre an opportunity for common folks to watch others do uncommon things with a golf club.
 
But even more so, its a chance for John Q. Golfing Public to experience an up-close encounter with the best players in the world.
 
Of course, this doesnt always happen. Not every player stops to pen his name. And even among those who do, actual interaction rarely compliments the signature.
 
Not so with Palmer. Palmer always signed. He always chatted. He always made the strange fan feel like a friend. And he was always sincere.
 
Palmer didnt just walk with kings and keep the common touch. He was the King with the common touch.
 
And he still is.
 
To this day, the 76-year-old can disarm you with a smile, pull you in with a few simple words, and make you feel like youve known him forever. Even more so, he can make you feel like hes known you forever.
 
It took some doing, some prodding by his daughter, Amy, but Palmer finally gave in to lending his name to this event, the tournament that he has hosted since it was first contested at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in 1979.
 
I suppose over the years Ive been invited to put my name on other tournaments around the country and I have resisted, he said. And I resisted here as long as I was playing or participating on the TOUR full-time. I just didnt think it would be appropriate to have my name on a golf tournament.
 
Palmer seemed to dismiss the idea in years past because, so long as he was still playing golf competitively, he didnt want to be perceived as bigger than the game. Regardless of whether or not he was in fact just that, thats never who he wanted to be ' or how he wanted to be viewed; he just always wanted to be a player in the game, a professional ' one whose job it was to compete, to win, to entertain.
 
Hes no longer that competitor, and he seems to finally have come to terms with that.
 
One press member asked him how he could resist the urge to compete next year in the first-ever Arnold Palmer Invitational.
 
Palmers response: I wont have any problem at all. I can promise you that.
 
He then laughed a little, and then got a little serious.
 
For the first time in my life I have no desire to go out and play the way Ive been playing, he said.
 
Arnold Palmer
Arnie's Army still follows whenever he competes.
Palmer added that he still loves to play; he just does so now mostly at home, which is Bay Hill, in the company of a regular foursome. He hasnt even competed in a Champions Tour event this year.
 
Tournament golf is now something that I dream about, he said. Of course theres nothing Id rather do than tee it up and know that I could be a factor; that isnt likely to happen.
 
There wasnt a hint of sadness in Palmers tone as he said these words. It was just matter-of-fact. It was sincere.
 
Arnold Palmer is 46 years my senior. He won his last TOUR event two years prior to my birth. Hes not only a Hall of Fame player; hes a legend ' and even a hero to some.
 
And yet, I feel much more comfortable asking him a question than I do, say, Charles Howell III.
 
I think that says a lot about who Palmer is, how he can make you feel, how he can put you ' anyone and everyone ' at ease. Hes Arnold Palmer. Youre you. And yet, it doesnt matter.
 
As I sat in Palmers press conference Wednesday I didnt ask any questions. I just listened. I listed to him talk about the future opening of the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, named after his late wife. I listened to him talk about the importance of rough at PGA TOUR events. I listened to him talk about how he wanted to make sure that any changes in the professional game didnt adversely affect the amateur player.
 
And, what I most enjoyed, I listened to him talk about how Augusta National played in the 50s and 60s, and how todays Masters Tournament is different from the one he won four times.
 
People said that I couldnt win at Augusta. That was the popular opinion. And why was that? Well, it was because I hit the ball low ' in fact, everybody knew when I played a practice round because there were burn marks on the tee where my ball took off. And I was aware of that, he told.
 
Augusta was a golf course that really wasnt suited necessarily to my game. But the desire to win at Augusta was as great as the lack of ... maybe game to do it.
 
He went on to talk about how he learned to win at Augusta; how he should have won a lot more than just four green jackets; why todays greens at Augusta hold approach shots better than they used to; why those greens are so much faster nowadays.
 
He talked about how he used to play the seventh hole, a par-4 that has been stretched to more than 450 yards and narrowed at the point of attack off the tee.
 
I used to hit a driver off the tee and I did it on purpose. Even though the fairway was narrow, I wanted to get down where I could get to the upslope and hit the ball into a green that was unacceptable ' it wouldn't accept the shot if you were hitting from the same level. So the upslope helped make it easier and that was my goal, when I played that hole, he recounted.
 
Today, with the hole the way it is, you'll see them hitting irons off the tee to a 460-yard hole to stay back on the level so that they can get that high shot into that seventh green.
 
And I could go over every hole on the golf course almost the same way, the different approach that you have to make today to get it there.
 
I wish he had. His 10-minute-or-so press conference was more entertaining, more engaging than a months worth of golf programming.
 
He talked. He was sincere. I listened. I was charmed.
 
Maybe it was a bit of magic after all.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”