Arnold's dirty dozen

September 10, 2009

On this the 80th anniversary of Arnold Palmer's birth, there's no need here to add to the accolades. What more can be said about the greatness of Palmer?

Instead, we'll contribute this anecdote, one that he'd just as soon forget. In the Los Angeles Open in 1961, at Rancho Park Golf Course, at the par-5 18th hole, Palmer attempted to reach the green in two, but hit two balls out of bounds right, two more out of bounds left.

Eventually, he tapped in a putt for 12. Later, he was said to have been asked how he made a 12.

"I missed a 15-footer for 11," he said. Maybe.

Over the years, the story has been retold with the putt for 11 ranging from three feet to 25 feet. There is even some dispute as to whether he was asked the question at all. One story was that public relations man Stan Wood (who also was the USC golf coach) made up the quote on his behalf.

At any rate, to commemorate the dozen strokes he took there, a plaque was installed. To publicize the fact in advance of the Security Pacific Senior Classic in which Palmer was playing in 1990, a glossy photograph of the plaque was distributed to the media, among them one mischievous writer who decided he ought to get Palmer to autograph the photo.

When he encountered Palmer on the practice green and asked him to sign it, Arnold gave him the stink eye, then smiled broadly and signed the photo.

-- John Strege