March 25, 2009 -- Golf has many icons, but only one King. Arnold Palmer, golf's greatest ambassador, took time out from an incredibly hectic week as host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard to speak with PGA.com's John Kim about this week's tournament, the state of the golf industry today and his lifetime love affair with growing the game.
John Kim: Mr. Palmer, thank you so much for spending some time with PGA.com in what I'm sure is your busiest week of the year. First of all, what are your hopes and expectations for this week and your tournament? Can you give us a sense of what this week is like for you?
Arnold Palmer: Well, we're into the middle of week now and many of the things that I had hoped for regarding this week have now happened -- and happened in a very positive fashion. Still, one of the most important events will happen today (Wednesday), as we are hosting our Pro-Am. We have many important guests and sponsors here to play, and this event is one of the main supports of our tournament. So yes, it's critical that today go well. And all indications are it will. The weather has cooperated, we have beautiful sunshine, a great field and things are tracking really well at this point. So if we can keep this going for another four days, I'll be very happy.
John Kim: You are so closely identified with golf, as a sport and as an industry. But more than anything, your love of the game really resonates with golf fans. Can you describe that love of the game?
Arnold Palmer: There are so many aspects of golf that are positive. First of all, the game itself and the challenge of playing the game is something that almost anyone who has an interest would enjoy and like. I had a particular advantage because my father was a golf professional who taught me golf and the rules of playing the game early in my life. He also taught me the etiquette of the game, the manners that go along with living in the golf atmosphere. Once you understand those things, you will appreciate the game far more. So through my father, I had a great advantage in learning and appreciating the true joys of golf.
John Kim: Your father was a PGA Professional who was famous for his work ethic and for sharing his passion for golf with you. This is the core mission of PGA Club Professionals today, to share that same passion for the game.
Arnold Palmer: My father was never a Tour player, he was a club professional who absolutely loved the game and put his heart and soul into it. His case was a little unusual in that he stayed at the same facility -- Latrobe Country Club -- for over 50 years, but it never became routine. He loved going to work everyday. I learned so much just watching him work in a field that he loved.
John Kim: Mr. Palmer, you're also a business executive and owner, you are certainly cognizant -- perhaps more than most -- of how today's economic climate is affecting the golf industry. Amid all the uncertainty out there, how does golf -- on a professional and industry level - survive, much less grow and prosper, during this difficult time.
Arnold Palmer: That's a tough question to answer, but I think that it goes back to reminding people about the great appeal of the game. I don't have a question in my mind about the game surviving, there are so many people that love it and will enjoy it throughout their lives. I think the economic downturn will have an effect, but it might give people reason to go out and enjoy this great game more. The economic climate, the unemployment situation, will rebound and when it does, I think that people will be just as enthusiastic about playing golf -- and hopefully even more so -- than ever before.
John Kim: Let's talk golf equipment for moment. Do you ever look at today's equipment and wish you had a chance to play with this arsenal of technology -- with the new shafts, clubs, balls, etc. -- while in your prime?
Arnold Palmer: Well, of course, I will not rebut my enjoyment of the game from when I played. I enjoyed it, I loved it and the challenge was always there. Even though the equipment was not the same as today, we all played the same [clubs], we didn't know any better. We played with what we had and I enjoyed it. I can't say anything bad about it. Would playing with today's equipment have made a difference? Sure. I could have maybe hit the ball a little further, and do some things I couldn't do because of equipment limitations, but I'm not going to say I have any regrets about my time playing professional golf.
As for today's equipment, I think at some point we'll have to stabilize the golf ball and roll back the square grooves to V-grooves. With all the things happening in the game, I think we'll find a neutral area for balancing skill and technology. I can't say there's anything wrong with how technology has changed the game, it's the natural evolution, or revolution, of the game. Bringing new things in is not bad -- stabilizing them will be good.
John Kim: It's been just over a decade since you overcame a bout with prostate cancer. In the time since, you've become very outspoken about many health causes including general fitness and checkup encouragements for golfers and non-golfers alike. Can you comment on your advocacy of health and fitness for golfers and non golfers alike?
Arnold Palmer: Well sure. I very much recommend that all people have regular physicals, that is something that too many overlook. I started having physicals at age 30, and I've never stopped. And whatever circumstances I've encountered health-wise in my life, the fact that I had doctors and regular check-ups was vital for me. I greatly encourage everyone to go see their doctor. I see various comments nowadays about the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test -- I personally do not see anything wrong with having a physical and PSA test to see if you have the possibility of prostate cancer. And that, of course, extends to all areas of your health. I adhere to the original rules of getting an annual physical. The doctors are pretty good guys, they'll tell you what you need to do.
John Kim: People are always so thrilled to see Arnold Palmer in any setting. Your appearance at Augusta National certainly fits that bill. Will you be returning to Augusta this year?
Arnold Palmer: I will be at Augusta, yes.
John Kim: Final question, there are a billion Arnold Palmer stories out there. Most of them true I'm sure, a few that could be apocryphal -- do you have a favorite?
Arnold Palmer: [laughter] I'm not going to tell any stories about Arnold Palmer, I probably talk too much as it is and I don't want to get into any more trouble than I'm in -- but I do appreciate you asking.
John Kim: Mr. Palmer, it has been a great thrill and honor for us to have you spend time with us during this certainly hectic week.
Arnold Palmer: Thank you for allowing me to come by and say hello to everyone.