How Bob Drum and I Invented Arnold Palmer
From the archive (August 1975)
Editor’s note: In celebration of Golf Digest's 70th anniversary, we’re revisiting the best literature and journalism we’ve ever published. Catch up on earlier installments.
Bob Drum was to Arnold Palmer what Kaye Kessler was to Jack Nicklaus and Dan Jenkins was to Ben Hogan and, if you want to go all the way back, O.B. Keeler was to Bobby Jones. They all covered sports for their hometown heroes‘ newspapers—in Drum’s case, the Pittsburgh Press. “Drummer was the first to recognize Arnold’s greatness,” says Doc Giffin, Palmer’s lifelong press attaché.
Drum was an All-America basketball player at Alabama with an outsize personality to match his Sub-Zero refrigerator frame. And he had a disarming sense of humor and extra-large laugh that was often directed at himself. I remember running into him late one night outside a pub during British Open week. He was regaling his pals with the story of how that very evening he had gotten stuck in the narrow bathtub in the B&B room he’d rented and had been extricated only when reinforcements from down the hall had to be brought in. Another time, Drum agreed to accompany Golf Digest columnist Charley Price on his plane trip to an alcohol rehabilitation center for one of Charley’s occasional exsiccation treatments. While in flight, the two agreed to have a few drinks that led to a few more in celebration of Charley drying out. As a precaution, Drum pinned a note to his lapel that read, “Keep the little one and send the big one back.” By that time, Bob had become a legendary commentator for CBS Sports in the model of Andy Rooney on golf, pontificating about the price of hot dogs or the nicknames of tour pros, and he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized.
His longtime friend was Dan Jenkins, first of the Fort Worth Press, later Sports Illustrated, and finally, for his last 35 years, Golf Digest. It was always a matter of debate between the two who played the starring role and who was best supporting actor in the passion play reprinted here from the August 1975 issue of the magazine, but in the end Bob and Dan were toasted as co-conspirators. —Jerry Tarde
The first time any of us ever actually noticed a guy named Arnold Palmer, it was on the veranda at Augusta around 1957, and we wondered who that vacationing longshoreman was talking to Bob Drum, the writer.
Later, Drum said, “That’s Arnold D. Palmer of Latrobe, Pa., the next great golfer.”
“Yeah, sure,” one of us said. “And I’m the next Steinbeck. But first I got to get some of those maroon pants with the cuffs turned up, and a green shirt, and an orange alpaca, like your pal over there. Arnold who?
There were only two golfers then, we liked to joke: Hogan and Snead. Well, maybe there was a Middlecoff occasionally. Writer are very strict about touring pros having familiar names. Editors make writers take laps and do pushups when Jack Fleck or Orville Moody wins a U.S. Open.
In any case, I was convinced our next hero of the era would be Ken Venturi. Others fancied Gene Littler.
“Venturi, perhaps,” Drum would say. “But there’s no such guy as Littler. He mails in his scores. Arnold D. Palmer of Latrobe, Pa., is the next great chin. He makes 4,567 birdies a day.”
Usually, when Drum spoke, you were forced to listen. He was larger than all the rest of us put together, he could outdrink the British army without showing it, and he was one of the more entertaining writers on the golf circuit. At least he was to those of us who were familiar with The Pittsburgh Press, or who would read over his shoulder as he sat typing in the press rooms roaring with laughter at his own words.
I should point out right here, I think, that it is impossible to reminisce about Arnold Palmer without continually thinking of Bob Drum, of whom an army captain once said, when Drum was defending our country by teaching Nazi prisoners how to play softball in Italy and North Africa: “You’re aptly named, Drum. Big, loud and empty.”
That was wrong. Drum was big, loud and hilarious, and he merely introduced most of us to half of the people in the world that we know. As I have said over many a cocktail through the years, “Bob Drum invented Arnold Palmer.”
That statement will of course ring with accuracy only to anyone in the profession of journalism. No one really invented Arnold Palmer, naturally, except Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. But if ever an athlete had an unofficial publicity and public-relations director who could do a job for him—purely out of friendship, admiration and no doubt a little hero worship—Arnold had such a man in Bob Drum. And Arnold had him in the days when it mattered the most—when Arnold was becoming the Arnold of “Whooo, haaaa, go get ’em, Arnie.”
Writers have golfers, you know. And golfers have writers. In a way, I suppose, a lot of us thought of ourselves as a modern-day version of O.B. Keeler, who had Bobby Jones
Ben Hogan belonged to everyone, to be sure, but I certainly felt he belonged mostly to me. I was from The Fort Worth Press, and Ben was the reason I started going to the big tournaments. My assignment in those days, therefore, was to follow Hogan, shot-by-shot, quote-by-quote, and, secondarily, to cover the tournament proper.
In so doing I became a sort of Hogan walking bibliography, which is what our friend, the late Walter Stewart of The Memphis Commercial-Appeal, became with Cary Middlecoff. It is what Kaye Kessler has become in Columbus with Jack Nicklaus, and what Art Spander had become in San Francisco with Johnny Miller. And it is what Bob Drum was in Pittsburgh with Arnold Palmer.
Drum and I became friends back in 1951. We first met trying to avoid a drink check on the Masters veranda. (When I think that I will be going to my 25thanniversary Masters with him next spring, I entertain the idea of decorating myself with a medal.) Possibly, we became friends because I could supply him with Hogan quotes and he could give me Snead quotes. I didn’t know Snead well. He was the enemy.
Drum would say to me, “Hey, Texas,” as he typed on deadline. “Gimme a Hogan quote.”
If I didn’t have any yet, I would invent one. If Drum didn’t like it, he would yell, “I read that in Herbert Warren Wind’s book, you rotten son of a bitch. “Gimme something fresh.”
Ultimately, together, Drum and I would come dangerously close to making Ben Hogan out to be a standup comedian in The Pittsburgh Press and The Fort Worth Press.
I recite all this only to prepare the world for the confession that Drum and I, over the years, did as much for Arnold Palmer. As Drum was saying recently, “He thinks he said all those things.”
An example of all those things would be this: The brilliant journalists are on deadline, Arnold has won the Masters again, and it’s time for a human voice to appear in our copy, but we haven’t spoken to Palmer yet.
Let’s say this is 1960, as Drum and I are blazing away on the typewriters. Couldn’t anyone tell by the smoke? Faster. The stories are eating away at the cocktail hour.
“What did he say?” I would ask.
“He said Augusta’s a par 68,” Drum would babble, typing it. “He said he’s going to the British Open. He said the modern professional Grand Slam is the Masters, the U.S. Open, the PGA and the British Open.”
“Arnold Palmer said that?” I asked.
“Who the hell are we talking about?” Drum said. “Laurie Auchterlonie?”
Thus, Arnold Palmer would read in The Pittsburgh Press that he would go to the British Open. He would also learn what the Grand Slam was. In a roundabout way, it was Bob Drum who rejuvenated the British Open, for when Arnold started going, everybody else did who mattered.
Much has been written about Palmer at Cherry Hills in 1960, of what he said in the locker room before going out for the final round of that U.S. Open when he shot the 65—and shot down the field. Arnold never actually made a serious prediction that day. He was too far back; practically out of the tournament.
Drum and I found Arnold sitting on a bench in the locker room. He was sitting there with Venturi and Bob Rosburg. They were eating hamburgers and drinking ice tea. We stumbled across them, in fact. We had been looking for Mike Souchak, the leader.
The three of them were joking around, as players do who are out of contention. We simply sat down to listen. Eventually, Arnold got around to talking about how much Cherry Hills’ first hole “bugged” him, as he put it.
“You ought to be able to drive that thing,” Arnold said. “With the right bounce over the rough, you could get it on there.”
It was a par 4.
“Sure,” Drum said. “If you’re George Bayer in a limousine.”
“I’ve almost been on it,” Palmer said.
“I’ve almost been on it in two,” said Venturi.
It went along like this for a few more minutes, or until it was time for Arnold to tee off for the last 18.
He stood up and smiled at Drum.
“You coming?” he said.
Drum said, “I’m tired of watching duck hooks. There’s a guy named Souchak leading the tournament. He’s from Pittsburgh, too.”
“If I drive the first hole, I might shoot 65,” Arnold said.
“Good,” said Drum. “You’ll finish 14th.”
“That would be 280,” Arnold said. “Doesn’t 280 always win the Open?”
I said, “Yeah. When Hogan shoots it.”
Arnold laughed and left.
He had driven the first green and birdied the first four holes before Drum and I caught him and climbed, sweaty and out of breath, under the gallery ropes, as our armbands permitted.
As we loitered on the fifth tee, Arnold took the Coke in a paper cup out of my hand and sipped on it. He took a pack of cigarettes out of my shirt pocket and lit one.
He did say, at that point, and with a grin, “Fancy seeing you here.”
But he didn’t say, “Who’s winning the Open?” He said that a few holes later, after he had birdied six of the first seven, and had noticed that he was leading the Open.
As much as I would like to give Drum the credit, Bob did not originate “Arnie’s Army.” A young fellow named Johnny Hendrix did, in The Augusta Chronicle. Drum immediately recognized the historical importance of it, however.
As we were reading the paper one morning during the Masters in the old Bon Air Hotel coffee shop, Drum said, mostly to himself, “I’ll be a son of a bitch. He’s a mush mouth from the South like you who’s just made himself immortal.”
There was a pause, and Drum said:
“Arnie’s Army, comma.”
I was fortunate to get to know Arnold early, me being the guy who was always with Drum. When Arnold captured his first Masters, in 1958, I got to be with him and Winnie that evening, as Drum and I earnestly sought our “Monday follow-ups.”
When Arnold took the British Open at Troon in 1962, he celebrated by having a reasonably quiet dinner with Winnie, Drum and I in the dining room of the Marine Hotel. I remember the staff sending over a cake to the table with an inscription in icing: “Open Champion.” Arnold sliced the cake, took a piece, stood up, smiled at the room, and sat down.
Whereupon he turned to us and asked:
“Do you suppose I have to eat it?”
I can still see him in the parking lot at Oakmont in 1962 after he had lost the U.S. Open playoff to Nicklaus. He’s angry. He’s slamming the clubs in the trunk of the car.
“You three-putted 12 greens in the tournament,” I said. “He three-putted only once.”
“Screw statistics,” said Drum. “The fat kid can play golf.”
The competitor came out in Arnold.
“I can beat the fat kid the best day he ever had,” Arnold said.
On our way back to the press tent, I said, “That was a hell of a quote.”
Drum laughed, agreeing.
“And we didn’t make it up,” he said.
We were in Arnold’s home in 1966 not too long after he had blown the U.S. Open to Billy Casper. Nobody could blow seven shots in the last nine holes to anybody, but Arnold had.
“I could have played safe,” Arnold said, “but that wouldn’t have been me. That’s not how I got where I am. He kept playing safe even when he was catching up. I couldn’t believe it.”
Drum said, “If you’d played safe and won, we’d have said you were a dirty, rotten coward.”
Arnold roared laughing. It helped.
As late as 1959 I was still not convinced that this guy from Latrobe, who so far had taken only one Masters, was going to be The Man. And just as I was about to be convinced, on that Sunday in Augusta, as Arnold was leading going to the 12th tee, on the verge of winning the Masters two years in a row, catastrophe struck—and almost took Drum with it.
We were up on the press tower that overlooks the 11th green, and all of the par-3 No. 12. It is not an exaggeration that when Arnold hit his shot into Rae’s Creek at the 12th hole—he would take a double bogey and blow the whole thing—Drum lost his balance in an emotional struggle to hurry the ball over the water.
I recall hearing, “Aaada … got … son of a … eeeiiiiiiii … ” as all 260 pounds of Bob Drum fell off the tower.
In his glory days, Arnold Palmer was probably the most gracious and friendly of any superstar, ever. He was forever helpful and had time for any writer, whether the writer’s name was Drum or not.
I never saw Arnold refuse to sign an autograph for a fan, no matter how inconvenient it might be, no matter how obtuse the person.
One of the reasons was because Arnold was just naturally a good-natured individual. But another reason, after he became Arnold Palmer, was because Bob Drum frequently schooled him on how to handle himself. Or teased him into doing the proper thing. Or joked him into it. Or provoked him into it.
There was the year when we were all in Las Vegas, at the Tournament of Champions, when Arnold wanted to go home. He wanted to skip Colonial, an event to which I was obviously partial, it being in my old hometown of Fort Worth.
“You’ve got to play Colonial,” said Drum. “It’s in our friend’s town.” He meant mine.
“I’m worn out,” Arnold said.
After a while, Drum said, “You don’t want to go because you can’t play the golf course. It’s too tough. You can’t play a tough, narrow course.”
You could almost hear Arnold growling. He went on to Colonial, and, incidentally, won the tournament.
Not too many seasons ago, during the Los Angeles Open, I was expected to do a rather lengthy television interview with Arnold for a show that was cosponsored by the magazine I work for, Sports Illustrated. I explained to Arnold that he would be doing it for free, and that it would probably require an hour. It was being set up for the next day, after he completed his round.
“I’ll have to clear it with Mark,” he said, meaning Mark McCormack, through whom he had been clearing his empire for years.
It was a doubly uninviting thing for Arnold to do, because we would be talking about why he wasn’t winning anymore.
The next day when I approached him, he said, “I talked to Mark, and I’m afraid I can’t do it. There’s a complication with another network, and some other reasons you’re aware of.”
I said, “Forgetting business, why don’t we just look at it as a personal favor to me?
Arnold fidgeted with that thought for a while, as we had a drink, and finally he said:
“Aw, hell. Let’s do it, anyway, and not tell Mark.”
In the great years when he seemed to win whenever he was in the mood, or whenever it was important, he earned a sort of underground nickname among a few of us. Bubba.
I think it must have been around 1962, and, again, at Augusta, when it happened. More things have happened to Palmer at Augusta than have happened to Bob Drum on side streets.
Anyhow, neither Drum nor I will soon forget Arnold lining up a birdie putt on the fourth green at Augusta during the playoff with Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald. Near us behind the ropes, among the hordes, was your basic Southern golf fan, all decked out in cap, cleats, hot dog, binoculars, sunburn and accent.
Quietly, the fan said:
“You make this one, Bubba, and you da leader of da tribe.”
Bob Drum and his trusty sidekick, me, and a few others in our drinking and typing club, have been calling him Bubba ever since.
But Arnold Palmer, whose wife calls him Arn, and whose army calls him Arnie, has never known why.
Now that all of us mostly deal in memories, since Drum no longer writes for a paper and Arnold seems unable to win the big ones, we will have to tell him that one of these days.
“You were the best, Bubba,” Bob Drum will conclude, raising a glass of vodka. “There was no such sport before you came along.”
And I will agree, smiling at them both with immense pleasure and fondness.