Arnold Palmer's final memoir serves as a beautiful good-bye from The King

October 08, 2016
a-life-well-played-cover-image.jpg will regularly highlight a book that it finds of interest to readers. This week’s is:

A Life Well Played: My Stories, By Arnold Palmer, St. Martin’s Press, $22.99, hardback, 258 pages, (released Oct. 11; author proceeds go directly to Arnie’s Army charitable foundation)

Arnold Palmer’s final literary work won’t be accompanied by the usual publicity campaign, no media caravan with the author in tow and, most painfully for his Army’s soldiers, no book signings from the most famous signer of autographs in sports history. Yet there is something poignant about having A Life Well Played: My Stories hit the shelves this week as the golf world is still in heavy mourning following Palmer’s death last month at age 87, as it serves as a warm good-bye from the great man himself.

The presentation of the book has a lot going for it as the topper to a vast set of writings from his first book in 1961 (see sidebar). There are 75 short stories on a wide range of topics from his 87 years under the headings of golf, life and business. We can picture Palmer in his dotage, sitting back in an easy chair, telling us short nuggets about the life he led, still feeling, as he writes, that he wants to share what he learned with people one more time.

While many of the Palmer’s fans will be familiar with several stories and anecdotes—the origin of Arnie’s Army and the Arnold Palmer drink, signing autographs, strained times with Ben Hogan—it’s good to “hear” his voice again in reading his words. And if the reader is clever, they could hear that voice over many weeks because even though My Stories could be read quickly, the book could easily be savored in “a story a day” fashion.

The book’s presentation feels similar to Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book, because we’re getting quick takes on everything golf and life, sometimes together: swing tips, his playing and winning philosophies, good manners, key moments in his career, relationship with the media and biographical bits. He writes some of his strongest words yet about how he was shaped and influenced by his father, Deacon.

Something new that struck me dealt with his two daughters, Peg and Amy, who are slightly older than me. I can recall getting into the game at age 12 in the early 1970s and being an immediate Palmer fan. In reading Mark McCormack’s still splendid 1967 bio Arnie, I kept thinking how awesome it would be to be Arnie’s kid, wondering if he was insisting his children play and would they rebel against it or excel. In this book he reveals his philosophy of not being demanding about a child playing golf, and he did help his girls play if they wanted, but in the end, trying to take the game to their father’s level was left up to their own kids, such as Amy’s son Sam Saunders, who plays on tour, and Peg’s son, Will Wears, another accomplished player.

Another new area for me was Arnold’s comment on how his fans changed following his 1966 U.S. Open collapse. Instead of only pulling for him to win as they always did, they seemed to him to be more sympathetic and supportive of him as a person going forward.

The book, written with aid from Golf Digest Contributing Editor Dave Shedloski, won’t take the place of Palmer’s bigger biographical efforts such as Go for Broke and A Golfer’s Life, but it is full of pleasant, uncomplicated reading and is a nice final volume to his legacy, benefitting from the poignancy of its release. In the aftermath of his passing and farewell viewed by millions, I challenge anyone to read the pages on his hometown Latrobe, Pa., and not get a tinge of emotion.

If you’re a member of Arnie’s Army, this book’s for you.

Booking time with Arnold
Arnold Palmer wrote more than a dozen books; consider these from the Palmer library; look for them at used-book sites such as
Arnold Palmer’s Golf Book: Hit It Hard!, The Ronald Press Company, 1961
My Game and Yours, Simon & Schuster, 1963
Situation Golf, McCall Publishing Co., 1970
Go for Broke! My philosophy of winning golf, with William Barry Furlong, Simon & Schuster, 1973
495 Golf Lessons, Digest Books/Follett Publishing Co., 1973
Arnold Palmer’s Best 54 Golf Holes, with Bob Drum. Doubleday & Company, 1977
Arnold Palmer’s Complete Book of Putting, with Peter Dobereiner, Atheneum, 1986
Play Great Golf: Mastering the Fundamentals of Your Game, Doubleday, 1987
A Golfer’s Life, with James Dodson, Ballantine Books, 1999
Playing by the Rules: All the rules of the game, complete with memorable rulings from golf’s rich history, Pocket Books, 2002
Arnold Palmer: Memories, Stories, and Memorabilia from a Life On and Off the Course, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2004