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Augusta Is Missing Its King

The First Masters In 63 Years Without Arnold Palmer
March 23, 2017

EDITOR'S NOTE: In this excerpt from the book, Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer, key figures explain what four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer meant to them. Copyright © 2017 by Tom Callahan. Reprinted by permission of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

"As an amateur, I played my first Masters practice round with Arnold, at his invitation. I saw how he kept looking over at the spectators, smiling at everyone, giving the two thumbs-up, and really seeing them. 'Don't ever walk by them as though they're not there,' he told me. 'They're there.'

"In 1996, the tour set aside an area for autograph signing. I don't know why, but it never really took, and they dropped it after that one year. But it worked for me, helped me organize my practice day. I still do it. Practicing is more demanding than playing, you know. You're concentrating just as hard, but you're hitting three times as many shots. I found myself avoiding the people during practice, and I didn't like that feeling. So, being able to block out a set time for autographing helped me. And, at Arnold's urging, I've tried to make my signature a little more legible. 'Sometimes,' he said, 'you only have a few seconds to make the only impression you'll ever make on that individual. Take the full time. These are the people who make it possible for us to play golf for a living.'

"He was always the one to emulate, wasn't he? And there was never anything phony about it."

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"At Bay Hill once, I was hitting balls on the range next to Dave Marr, not far from Arnold. [In the warm-up, Ben had been having trouble adjusting to his driver and was hoping it could be adjusted to him.] 'Dave'—I turned to Marr—'do you think anybody here might have some lead tape?' 'Are you kidding me?' he said. 'That guy over there eats lead tape for breakfast!' Arnold pulled out his entire tool kit, full of saws and scissors, and re-weighted my club head just in time."

(Palmer told Ben, "That'll be a dollar fifty.")

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"I guess I did have a sense of history growing up, but more Arnold than anyone. Of course, you hardly ever saw the women on TV then. But JoAnne Carner was my female idol. Whenever the women were on, my dad would always say, 'Let's watch them today,' and JoAnne stood out."

(The legend of JoAnne Gunderson Carner—"The Great Gundy"—included the fact that she outdrove Palmer once. It was at an exhibition. Both hit long drives into the fairway off the first tee. With a swagger, Arnold bypassed the shorter ball, bent down to identify the longer one, then withdrew backward with a look of chagrin. If asked, he would get up from his desk and re-enact that embarrassing moment, and love doing it. "I birdied the hole," he said, "a par 5. She eagled it.")

"I was at the Masters [in 2016]," Lopez said. "For him not to be well enough to hit the opening tee shot with Jack and Gary broke my heart. He's so proud, and I could see it was killing him to be sitting there watching. I went to hug him, and that was the first time he didn't stand up to give me a hug. So I kind of knew. . . . He got choked up talking about his fans. And thinking of that makes me cry. The reason he always gave so much of himself to them was because he loved them."


Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images

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"In the weeks before Christmas after I won the Masters, I came back to Augusta National to play the course a couple of days with my dad. You know, you can take the green jacket home with you for a year, but then you have to bring it back. I was already feeling my time with it kind of running out. So now my father and I are walking upstairs to the Champions Locker Room, and I'm trying to soak in this feeling and make it last a lifetime. How often do you get to go and see your name in the Champions Locker Room at Augusta National for the first time? I had no idea, no one had told me, whom I'd be sharing a locker with. Arnold Palmer."

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"[Wife] Sue and I were applying for our green cards, and because I didn't know the president of the United States, I went to Arnold to ask if he'd do a character reference for me. Geez, I'll tell you what, he wrote the most glowing letter on my behalf. I pictured the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] officer seeing Arnold Palmer at the bottom and stamping that thing straightaway. For years, every time Arnold saw me, he reminded the people in the room, 'I got Nick into the country.'

"Last time I saw him was at Augusta. He was sitting in the cabin there and called me over. He grabbed my hand, just held on to me, and said, 'It's so good to see you, Nick.' He told me he had been surrounded by old people all day—and I'm no spring chicken myself—but I was like the youngest guy who had come to see him. 'Tell the other kids not to forget me,' he said."

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"When I was 15, I was asked to play with him in a benefit for multiple sclerosis in Kansas City. I was thrilled. My teacher, Stan Thirsk, was in the group, and I played pretty well for a while. I tied Arnie on the front nine with a 34. But then he shot 34 on the back, too, to my 40. He complimented me just enough, built me up in the most generous way, without being condescending. Treated me like a real player. I learned a lot that day.

"At that last Champions Dinner during Masters week, he looked so frail. He obviously didn't like the situation his body was in. But he was standing up to it, the way you knew he would. Competing."


Dave Black

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"It's a little different for a European. Seve was our Arnie. Everyone says that, and it's true. The way Arnie brought golf to the masses, Seve brought it to us. I didn't grow up thinking of Arnie, but once I came over to the U.S. and learned what he did for the game, and all he meant to the tour, I got it. It was nice to come to his tournament, to honor him and all that he did for our game. Would there have been a Seve without him? Sure, but not the same Seve. None of us would have been the same. Golf wouldn't have been the same."

("If you ever need anything," Palmer said to McIlroy, "here's my number. Call me." "All I need, Mr. Palmer," Rory told him, "you've already given me.")

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"When you see somebody really loving what they're doing, whatever that happens to be, it lifts you up for some reason. And so many golfers, because of the nature of the game, look like they're not enjoying it at all. He always seemed like a kid having fun at the golf course. He loved playing golf, and that carried over into everything else he did. Every side success was just a happy byproduct to the pleasure he got playing golf. He was a golfer.

"Tiger in the early days, when he seemed to love it, was so great to watch. But even before everything went bad, the fun had already gone out of it. He was still good, still winning, but it wasn't the same. It looked like he was hating it. I shouldn't say 'hating it,' but he wasn't doing it joyfully. He was just doing it to do it. Even after Palmer lost his game, he never lost his joy."

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"I was always able to talk to him about anything, not just golf. He'd take the time to listen, talk to you honestly and then tell you exactly what he thought. He had a way of making you feel comfortable and at ease. . . . Arnold enjoyed being Arnold Palmer. No one did it better."

(Palmer said, "I think when Tiger lost his father, he lost himself. My wish for him is not to come back as a player, but to come back as a man.")


Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

"I was feeling a little tightness in my back, and with the Olympics and everything coming up, I thought the responsible thing to do was withdraw from Bay Hill. But I had too much respect for Arnold to do that on the telephone. I went to his office in person and brought Caleb [Watson's son, then 4] with me, figuring it might go a little better for me having Caleb there. But Arnold made it easy, as always. He didn't talk about Bay Hill, the tournament, or golf. He talked about Caleb, about life. He looked worn out. I tried to give him some energy, to encourage him as much as I could, if he even needed it from me. He was the one who picked Caleb up and put him in his lap. I didn't do it. I didn't stage it or anything. I asked him, 'Do you mind if I take a picture?' And after I left, I called back and asked if it was OK to post it on social media."

Caleb and the King.

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"They say he liked all people, but I think he just didn't mind them. He was a happy man, and made even grumps like me a little happier. He drank from the cup of happiness."

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"We aren't just acquaintances, we're friends. Though I'm sure everyone says that. I think Arnie likes me because I was 'Maverick' on TV. He likes TV cowboys, being a kind of TV cowboy himself. Like Clint Eastwood, 'Rawhide.' Though I think Clint would have preferred to be Arnold Palmer."

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"I had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II. The archbishop conducting the visit introduced me as the archabbot of Latrobe, Pa. Pope John Paul immediately responded, 'Ar-nold Pal-mer.' "

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"I gave him the Medal of Freedom for a reason. His impact on American sport, but also his impact on American character." Palmer also received the Congressional Gold Medal, whose first recipient was George Washington in 1776.

("Contrary to what you may hear," Palmer said, "I never knew George Washington, but if I did meet him, I'd shake his hand and say, 'You were the first, and I won't be the last.' ")