Today marks the 85th birthday of one of the most treasured professional athletes the world has ever known -- "The King," Mr. Arnold Palmer.
A seven-time major champion with 62 PGA Tour victories (good for fifth all time), there may be no other superstar more approachable, friendly and welcoming than Palmer. There will never be another Arnold Palmer.
Throughout his life, Palmer has followed a simple rule: treat others the way you'd like to be treated. When he greets fans, he looks them in the eyes. His handshake is firm. And his signature? Perfect penmanship so there's no doubt who you got it from.
If you've been around professional golf long enough, chances are you have an Arnold Palmer story. I've been lucky enough to have a few personal encounters with the King. My favorite, however, came early in the week at the 2009 Masters.
During the practice rounds, I would take a stroll around the grounds to snap photos. After one such stroll, I walked back through the clubhouse with a fellow writer. It's certainly not a "thing" when you're a writer to ask a player to stop and take a picture with you.
However, after walking through the Augusta National clubhouse, I noticed Mr. Palmer walking in -- wearing his green jacket. I immediately turned to my friend and said, "I know we shouldn't, but how can we not ask the King to take a picture with us? He's wearing his green jacket!"
I excitedly approached Palmer and said hello. He looked right at me, smiled, extended his hand and said hello right back. When I asked, he said he'd be more than happy to take a picture. So we did.
Months later, I had the photo blown up into a 16x20. At the urging of another friend, I wrote a letter to Palmer's longtime assistant, Doc Giffin, at Bay Hill and sent along the photo. I said, "I've never asked for an autograph while on the job, but this photo is special to me. Would it be possible to have Mr. Palmer sign it?"
This was in November of 2009. Giffin got right back to me and said it would be no problem at all. Months went by and -- in all honesty -- I had forgotten I'd even sent the photo down to Bay Hill.
Then, on Monday, March 15, 2010 -- my 30th birthday -- a surprise package arrived in the mail. It was the photo with Palmer's perfectly legible signature. The photo hangs right above the desk we're I'm writing this. I have a lot of treasured golf-related items I've collected through the years, but nothing tops this photo with Palmer.
Well, aside from the fact that he's the King, Palmer was always my great, great Uncle Manny's favorite player. "Uncle" as we called him, taught my dad, my brother and me how to play golf. Through junior high and high school, I played golf with Uncle every day in the summers... even well into his 80s.
He passed away in 2003, a little more than a month shy of his 88th birthday. Every time I look at this photo with Palmer, it reminds me of all the unbelievable times I had on the course with Uncle, my dad and my brother. For a long time, my dream foursome also happened to be my daily foursome.
And over those cherished rounds, we heard a lot about Arnold Palmer.
I wish Uncle could have seen this picture. He'd love it.
Happy 85th birthday, Mr. Palmer.