RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links



Audience with The King

Tour pro contending at Bay Hill has humorous story of his ‘unofficial’ meeting with Arnold Palmer

March 08, 2024
2065697595

Mike Ehrmann

ORLANDO — Justin Lower never got a chance to officially meet Arnold Palmer, but the Ohio native probably has one of the more memorable encounters with the legendary player among those competing in this week's 59th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Lower, who opened with a five-under 67 Thursday at Bay Hill Club, a stroke behind leader Shane Lowry, won the 2010 Arnold Palmer Award as medalist at the NAIA Men’s Golf Championship while playing for Malone University in Canton, Ohio. He also won the Jack Nicklaus Award that year as the top NAIA player.

Having grown up in Akron, Lower, not surprisingly, lists the 2000 WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club as his first memory in golf because, well, there was the guy named Tiger Woods winning it.

Two years later, Lower was rubbing elbows with some other golf greats. He was serving as a volunteer at the Senior PGA Championship at Firestone's South Course, and as he was taking in some of the practice round, along came Palmer, Nicklaus and Jim Colbert. We’ll let Lower take it from here.

“I was left of the green on No. 8,” Lower began, “and Arnold pulled his second shot left of the green, left of the bunker, and it hit some guy standing next to me. I'm from here to that leaf [two feet] from Arnold's ball, and he comes up, and he's like, ‘Did it hit anyone?’ And the guy's like, ‘Yeah, it hit me. … It will grow back though.’ And Arnold got a big kick out of that.

“He kind of looked at it, and it was a tough shot over a bunker, and he goes, ‘Does anyone want to hit this shot?’ And I was 13, maybe 14 at the time, and I stepped right up, I was like, ‘I'll hit it.’ And I had my hand on his wedge, and this huge hand out of nowhere just comes back, and he grabs me like that [on the forearm] and he's like, ‘Don't worry, son, I'll take it from here.’”

Well, that took some chutzpah to put his hands on one of the clubs belonging to the King. But Lower can be forgiven. He was a kid getting a chance to mingle with the greats of golf and lost his mind.

“I was so, like, excited,” Lower, a third-year tour member, said. “I was like, this is going to be awesome, all these people to hit it. In the end, I didn't get a chance to hit it, but, yeah, just a cool story, for sure.”

Lower, 34, fits the profile of a player who might have a chance to win this week given how the 2024 PGA Tour season has played out. He is ranked 157th in the world. Just one winner so far this year on the PGA Tour—Hideki Matsuyama at the Genesis Invitational—has been ranked inside the top 50.

It's too early to think about winning, of course. But he did deliver a winning story. Arnie would have enjoyed being reminded of it.