Brian Dorn has one of the most enviable positions in the game -- PGA Director of Golf at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, otherwise known as, Arnie's place... as in, the home of, "The King," Mr. Arnold Palmer. This week, the PGA Tour is at Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where a recently struggling Tiger Woods is a six-time former champion and Ernie Els is the defending champion. Before the action got under way, we had a great chat with Dorn.
PGA.com: Year in and year out, Bay Hill provides one of the most exciting tournaments of the season. Do you think that's a result of the risk-reward element of the course? Is it the world-class field? Or is it both?
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Dorn: It's both of those elements in addition to the difficult course set up. The tough conditions have kept players from separating themselves from the field. The winning scores the last few years have been single digits under par -- even during the years of Tiger's domination, he was typically the only one in double digits under par.
PGA.com: Your defending champion is Ernie Els, one of the most popular and well-liked stars on Tour for the last several years. His victory last year was his second in as many weeks and his second overall at Bay Hill since 1998. What was it like to see him win again?
Dorn: He's always a very popular champion. His popularity in 1998 was fueled by his status as one of the top 3 players in the world. Nowadays, he is not only popular for his status as one of the world's best golfers but also because he is a very likeable guy and a genuine person who raises millions for his charity, Els for Autism.
PGA.com: No one has performed better at Bay Hill through the years than Tiger Woods, a six-time winner. Right now, he's in the biggest slump of his professional career, but found some magic in the final round at Doral a couple of weeks back with a 66. Returning to Bay Hill for the first time in two years this week, what do you expect from the world's former No. 1 player?
Dorn: When considering which events are likely to be Tiger's return to the winner's circle, you would think Torrey Pines or Bay Hill would be the top choices. He didn't win at the Farmers Insurance Open this year, so a seventh victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational would make quite a story. Honestly, I really don't know what to expect. Tiger's first trip around the course since our course renovation (summer '09) was his Tuesday practice round. As comfortable as he seems to be at Bay Hill, his unfamiliarity with the subtle changes to the course are not likely to affect him.
PGA.com: Two of the highlights of my career as a golf writer have been the two times I've spent a few minutes in the presence of Mr. Arnold Palmer. For my money, there has never been a better superstar in any sport. You're the Director of Golf at Arnie's place, which I'm sure must be a thrill. Is there a special story you could share with our readers about the Mr. Palmer you know?
Dorn: There's no doubt that he's a special person and there are very few, if any, celebrities that understand and cherish the relationship they have with their fans. A situation last week serves as a perfect illustration of his bond with his fans. While eating lunch at the club, Mr. Palmer was approached by one of our guests that he was meeting for the first time. The gentleman asked Mr. Palmer if he could say hello to his group while they were playing golf later that day. A few hours later, following a business meeting, Mr. Palmer came into the golf shop on a mission -- he had to find that gentleman's group, but he couldn't remember his name and didn't know his tee time. Enlisting the help of one of our golf professionals, Mr. Palmer drove from hole to hole searching for our guest. After covering almost the entire back 9, he found them and spent the better part of a half hour chatting, signing autographs and posing for photos with the group. This is why Mr. Palmer is "THE KING."
PGA.com: Final question, Brian. What's the best part of tournament week for you?
Dorn: Every day during the event is exciting in its own way, but the best part of the week is undoubtedly Sunday afternoon on No. 18 -- it's a special scene: Mr. Palmer proudly watching the tournament winner hole his final putt and greeting him as he walks off the green with a big grin, a congratulatory handshake, and a pat on the back or a hug. It's pretty good stuff.