ORLANDO, Fla. – Arnold Palmer’s annual chat with the media at Bay Hill is traditionally a treat.
Palmer, one of golf’s greatest champions, has never been shy about offering his opinion about his beloved game, and he didn’t hold back Wednesday.
Should the golf ball be rolled back?
“(M)y opinion is that the golf ball needs to be slowed down. It’s going too far.”
What can be done about slow play?
“What are you going to tell a guy that’s a slow thinker, ‘Hey, you’ve got to start thinking faster’? That’s pretty difficult.”
Did you weight-train during your playing career?
“When I was a young man, lifting weights wasn’t as popular as it’s becoming now. I pushed a lawn mower, and it didn’t have a motor on it. That was one way to get pretty doggone strong."
For nearly 45 minutes, Palmer fielded questions with the grace and charisma that have defined his legacy. It served as a glimpse into the mind of a man who, during the same news conference, can casually mention the many rounds of golf he played alongside President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who left the White House 53 years ago.
But in the wake of Tiger Woods’ withdrawal Tuesday, Palmer’s presser also highlighted another undeniable fact: Time stops for no man.
At age 84, Palmer’s body has slowed. His hearing has faded. He still plays golf, but admitted that he’ll undergo a back operation next month to get “a little more comfortable” while on the course.
His mind and wit are as sharp as ever. In many ways, he remains the same swashbuckling figure who took the game by storm in the 1950s.
More than any other sport, golf has the ability to lengthen the careers of its biggest stars. Players can win on the PGA Tour as teenagers and can win as AARP members. Under the right conditions, tournament golf can be an equalizer of generations.
Even against the greatest players, though, Father Time remains undefeated.
Woods is now 38 years old and caught in the crosshairs of a battle against his body. He’s closer to Champions Tour eligibility than the pinnacle of his career when he held all four major trophies following the 2001 Masters.
While some are ready to write off the man who still tops the world rankings, Palmer was quick to point out that Woods is not at the close of his career.
“I don’t think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack (Nicklaus) did,” Palmer said.
At the same time, Woods’ injury history – highlighted by back spasms that have led to his withdrawal from two events this month – remains a road block to equaling Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories, an achievement that once seemed a fait accompli.
“It’s going to be tough,” Palmer said. “It’s going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of game that is necessary to win majors.”
Much of Woods’ status remains uncertain – from his next start, to his prognosis for the balance of the year, to his ability to claim major No. 15 and beyond. Each development in his plight this season has created more questions than answers.
Will he reach 19?
It’s a question that has been debated for more than a decade, and will continue to be for as long as Woods continues to tee it up.
Wednesday’s audience with Palmer, though, offered a refreshing reminder for golf fans.
Appreciate the opportunity to watch one of the game’s all-time greats. Appreciate that chance to have a front-row seat as he attempts to chase down golf’s most hallowed record.
Appreciate it now ... because Father Time shows no signs of giving up his winning streak.