Arnold Palmer's right-hand man gets a moment of his own at Oakmont
OAKMONT, Pa. – The only two times I’ve applauded in an interview room were at Oakmont. The first was 1994 when Arnold Palmer played his last U.S. Open and was too emotional to talk. The second was this year when the USGA honored Donald (Doc) Giffin, the long-time spokesman for Palmer. Giffin and Palmer were both born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, a drive and a 5-iron from Oakmont, and neither ever lost the passion for work and respect for people that was instilled in their upbringing. Palmer, 86, won’t be able to attend this year’s Open. But there was Doc, as always, speaking in behalf of the man he has served for 50 years, becoming the King’s closest and most trusted confidant. “Arnold has had some serious mobility problems and has decided that it was going to be a bit too difficult for him to get down here this week so he’s going to be watching and rooting and paying close attention to the tournament,” Giffin said Wednesday. On June 17, 1994—the day of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase—a then 64-year-old Palmer missed the cut at Oakmont, where he was playing on a special exemption. When he tried to address the media in his final Open start, the man who never let us down when it came to a quote was too emotional to find words. “I think I am a little bit sun-whipped and tired, ready to take a little rest,” Palmer said, fighting back tears. “Hopefully, a few more golf tournaments along the way. I think that is about all I have to say. Thank you very much.” As always from Arnold, humble and from the heart. All of us gave him a standing ovation. Doc started working for the PGA Tour as a communications guy in 1962 and went to work for Palmer in 1966. They have been inseparable since, Doc still living in Western Pa., and Palmer spending his time between Latrobe, the Bay Hill Resort in Orlando and La Quinta, Calif. Oakmont is a constant in the lives that Palmer and Giffin have shared. “[The] 1962 [U.S.] Open, such a historic Open for everybody, particularly my boss and Jack Nicklaus,” Giffin said. “It happened to be my first U.S. Open. That was my first year as press secretary.” It was also the tournament at which Nicklaus won his first pro event in an 18-hole playoff with Palmer, the clear favorite of fans who sided with the local guy against the chubby 22-year-old blond bomber from neighboring Ohio. “We had one tent, and that was it,” Doc said, comparing the massive infrastructure of today with the meager facilities of 1962. "I know Arnold will be pleased,” he said, always working his boss into the conversation. Last year, when reflecting on his relationship with Doc for a piece by Tom Callahan in Golf Digest, Palmer, as always said it perfectly. “Maybe Doc’s real title,” Palmer said, “should be ‘friend.’ Or ‘everlasting friend.’ Don’t we all wish every player had a Doc Giffin? Someone very straight. Someone you can trust with your life. A good guy who always steers you in the right direction. In addition to everything else he does—and he does a lot—that’s what Doc has been to me.” I’ve always felt every player in every sport should study Palmer to learn how to interact with the media, fans and sponsors. It also might be a good idea for PR folks to study Giffin for clues on how to deal with the media—and with their own clients. In their own ways, Palmer and Giffin are both The King at what they do. We’ve been lucky to have them.