"Don't feel sorry for me!" says Arnie about Olympic in '66
SAN FRANCISCO -- "Don't feel sorry for me," Arnold Palmer told a private audience Monday night about his losing the 1966 Open at Olympic
to Billy Casper. "It was not the end of my life, it may have been the beginning. I probably made more friends losing the Open than I would have winning."
Unusually sentimental and nostalgic even for Palmer -- a video tribute from his children and grandchildren making things more him more so -- the 82-year-old seven-time professional major champion spoke movingly and gratefully about his competitive career and the volunteers and friends who make tour life possible -- and enjoyable. He urged younger players to "spend time with (volunteers) and find out what they do" and to make friends with them. He recalled wanting to win that year for his late friend Ed Douglas, of Pennzoil, with whom he stayed in San Francisco, thinking what a wonderful gift it would be to give Douglas.
On the other hand, the details of that agonizing Sunday, when his seven-shot lead over Casper evaporated, have not left him. Palmer recalled how early in the round Casper had crossed the fairway to talk to him. "Arnold, if I don't start playing a little better, Nicklaus is going to beat me for second." Palmer smiled as he recalled his response. "'Don't worry,'" I said. "'I'll help you.'"
Palmer's comments came at the annual dinner by sponsor Rolex at the St. Francis Yacht Club near the Golden Gate Bridge, as he fielded questions from his friend, broadcaster Jim Nantz.
He suggested, interestingly, that an earlier Open victory may have changed his approach at subsequent Opens, including the one at Olympic. His 1960 Cherry Hills, said Palmer, may have made him less driven to win the Championship after that, and that he might have been more"aggressive" in future Opens had he not had the 1960 title under his belt. But there were no regrets, said Palmer, especially about Olympic in 1966:
"It wasn't that bad," he said. "Don't feel sorry for me."
-- Bob Carney
Photo: Getty Images