Players recollect memories of meeting the King

By Rex HoggardSeptember 10, 2009, 2:16 am
BMW Championship 2007 LogoLEMONT, Ill. – It was Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors, to say nothing of those 19 Grand Slam also-rans, that Tiger Woods famously had pinned to the wall of his boyhood home, and the duo create the perfect combination of clinical efficiency and competitive zeal.

Yet as the golf world prepares to celebrate its most endearing octogenarian the thought is unshakable, there would be no Jack Nicklaus, at least not the Jack we remember today, and perhaps no Tiger Woods without the original version – Arnold Palmer.

Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer
Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer share a smile. (Getty Images)
On Thursday Palmer turns 80 – which begs the question, what do you buy the legend that has his own plane, his own drink and enough bullet points on the resume to fill a phone book? Even some six decades after his first Tour victory, the King’s shadow may be a tad slump-shouldered but his influence on the modern professional is unmistakable.

Although the vast majority of today’s Tour pros don’t slash at the golf ball with the ferocity of a lumberjack, they don’t hitch up their paints and charge down fairways and, sadly, many don’t engage the public like Palmer did, but nearly all of the modern versions appreciate what he did for the game at the perfect crossroads of television and mass appeal. It’s in their eyes, like the birth of a child or first Tour victory, when you ask them to remember the first time they crossed paths with the legend.

“They were playing in Napa Valley (Calif.) and he invited me to dinner,” Woods recalled recently. “Well, the tab comes, I’m not going to say, hey, Arnold, it’s on me. He goes and picks up the tab like it’s no big deal. My (college) coach had to report me (to the NCAA) because that was a violation.”

Luckily, Palmer’s generosity didn’t cost Woods any eligibility, only $25 and some change. His endearing nature, however, is a common theme among those who have attempted to fill the King’s shoes both on and off the course.

Before he turned into the Tour’s post-season version of Derek Jeter, Steve Stricker was a little-known player with his wife on his bag. During the duo’s first stop at Palmer’s Bay Hill Invitational in the early 1990s they stopped Palmer to thank him for inviting them to his event.

“It was like going to see your grandfather and listening to him tell stories about his past. It's a time my wife and I have never forgotten, just the two of us and Arnold Palmer and his personal assistant Doc Giffin in his office,” Stricker said. “We didn't know him, but he treated us like we were old friends. That's the way he's always been when I've seen him. He makes you feel very comfortable around him even though he's this golf icon.”

Nearly a decade later, Tour rookie Mark Wilson and his wife had a similar Palmer moment.

“She was walking up in the Bay Hill clubhouse trying to find a bathroom. She sees this gentleman from behind, and says, ‘Excuse me, sir, do you know where the bathrooms are?’ The man turns around, and it’s Arnold Palmer,” Wilson said. “She was just speechless. He was a true gentleman. He walked her over and showed her where to go and was as nice as could be.”

Although the swing has slowed over the years, his passion for the game has never diminished. While some modern Tour pros marvel at how the legend engaged the golf fan with his everyman appeal, others see a timeless passion that is unrivaled.

“I remember about eight years ago, he's digging through the trunk of his car, where he's got some different drivers and he's taking a look at them and feeling them out before the round to see what he wanted to use,” recalls Brett Quigley. “I know he's done that his whole career. I love that. He was about 73 years old then, and I loved that he was still into golf that much. I loved that he has that much passion about the game.”

Palmer has set the standard for how a professional should act, both on and off the golf course, since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, and he’s passed along his knowledge in that subtle type of way that only a seven-time major champion can.

During his first Masters in 1991 Phil Mickelson arranged a practice round with Palmer at Augusta National. After the round the two were walking toward the clubhouse when Palmer seized on the opportunity to teach a future major champion a lesson.

“Right here in 1961 I had a one-shot lead,” Mickelson remembers Palmer telling him. “I came over and shook somebody’s hand and he said, ‘congratulations.’ I never should have said thank you. I should have said it’s not over.”

Palmer lost the ’61 Masters to Gary Player, but the lesson seems apropos on his 80th birthday. With his journey far from over, those who followed Palmer’s trail-blazed path to the PGA Tour owe the man from Latrobe, Pa., a collective thank you.

Related Links:
  • Arnold Palmer: Celebrating his 80th birthday
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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 12:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)

1:30-8:20AM (Watch): On a rainy Friday morning at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy shot 69 to reach 4 under, while Zach Johnson fired a 67 for the early lead. Click here or on the image below to watch.

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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Fleetwood, with his fancy umbrella, fires 65 on Day 2

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 12:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tommy Fleetwood looked like an Open rookie when he set out on Friday under gray skies and a cold, steady rain.

Because the Englishman doesn’t have an equipment sponsor he made a quick turn through the merchandise tent for an umbrella – but at least he didn’t have to pay for it.

“We stole it,” he laughed when asked about his Open-brand umbrella. “We got one given for free, actually. We didn't steal it. We don't always carry an umbrella. So it just so happens this week that we've got a nice Open Championship [umbrella]. It looked quite nice, the yellow and the course.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

It was Fleetwood’s only rookie move on Day 2 at Carnoustie, posting a flawless 65 to move into an early tie for second place at 5 under par.

Fleetwood holds the competitive course record at Carnoustie, a 9-under 63 he shot last fall during the European Tour’s Dunhill Links Championship, but given Friday’s conditions and the difficulty of this course during The Open, his 65 on Friday might have been better.

“It's not a course record, but it's pretty good,” said Fleetwood, who was stroke behind leader Zach Johnson. “If you went out, you wouldn't really fancy being 6 under out there. So I think that's a good indication of how good it was.”

It was a dramatic turnaround for Fleetwood on Friday. He said he struggled with his ball-striking, specifically his tee shots, on Day 1, but he was able to turn things around with an hour-long session on the range following his opening round.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 10:15 am

Following an even-par 71 in the first round of the 147th Open Championship, Tiger Woods looks to make a move on Day 2 at Carnoustie.

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McIlroy responds to Harmon's 'robot' criticism

By Mercer BaggsJuly 20, 2018, 6:53 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy said during his pre-championship news conference that he wanted to play more "carefree" – citing Jon Rahm’s approach now and the way McIlroy played in his younger days.

McIlroy got off to a good start Thursday at Carnoustie, shooting 2-under 69, good for a share of eighth place.

But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

Said Harmon:

“Rory had this spell when he wasn’t putting good and hitting the ball good, and he got so wrapped up in how he was going to do it he forgot how to do it.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

“This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

“Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

McIlroy second round at The Open began at 2:52 a.m. ET.