15 Sep 1996: Arnold Palmer and Scott Hoch at the President''s Cup at Lake Manassas Golf Club in Manassas, Virginia. Mandatory Credit: J.D. Cuban /Allsport
Did You Know?
We all know about Arnold Palmer the golfer, but not everyone knows about Arnold Palmer the person. In this exclusive feature for PGA.com, veteran Pennsylvania golf writer and Palmer expert Marino Parascenzo offers a glimpse inside the man we affectionately call The King.
By Marino Parascenzo, Special to PGA.com
Some things you might not know about Arnold Palmer, but should:
He's 75, he hasn't won anything since 1988 -- unless you count standing ovations -- and they still call him the King.
At the 2003 Masters, while Martha Burk was protesting against Augusta National Golf Club, an Elvis impersonator wearing a sequined jumpsuit was parading around Burk's protest protesting that Palmer is called the King.
Perhaps there's a tribute to Evel Knevel on the face of a cliff somewhere, but apart from that, Arnie Palmer may be the only guy with a plaque struck to failure. It's at Rancho Park, scene of the 1961 Los Angeles Open. Palmer suffers from a constitutional aversion to laying up, and so at the par-5 ninth he tried to force a 3-wood second shot down the narrowing throat. He proceeded to smack four straight shots out of bounds -- right-left-right-left -- and racked up a 12. When Palmer makes a 12, you put up a plaque. They did.
On the other hand: There are three other plaques to Palmer. At Cherry Hills, one commemorates his driving the green at the 346-yard No. 1 in the final round, triggering his miraculous charge to the 1960 U.S. Open championship. At Royal Birkdale, a plaque marks his other-worldly 6-iron out of wet, shaggy rough at the then-15th that helped set up his victory in the 1961 British Open. And on a drinking fountain at the 16th tee at Augusta National, there's a large plaque with a long message that translates to, "Thanks, Arnie, for making the Masters what it is."
Your chances of getting an Arnold Palmer autograph -- 100 percent.
Time it takes to get an Arnold Palmer autograph at a tournament: Right now, if you're adept at muscling your way past old ladies, mature men and little kids. If not, how are you at waiting in a long, long line?
Palmer is in the autograph business -- sort of -- but he's got it all wrong. Last fall, a visitor showed him an ad in USA Today offering a genuine autographed Tiger Woods photo for $1,500. "Boy, I really missed the boat," Palmer cracked. In front of him, on his secretary's desk, were stacks and stacks of manila envelopes ready to mail that day. Cost to the fan: Zippo. Cost to Palmer: Photos, envelopes, cardboard, postage. Autograph thrown in. He spends many thousands of dollars a year filling requests for autographs.
Palmer's work day: Rise early as a monk, spend the first hour or so autographing stuff sent in by fans, do some business paperwork and make some phone calls, then fret until he gets out on the course.
Palmer owns his own plane, his own country club, his own Florida resort, a piece of Pebble Beach, and God knows what else. As a kid growing up the son of the pro/greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, Palmer wasn't allowed in the clubhouse, wasn't allowed in the swimming pool with his classmates, wasn't allowed on the course except with the caddies. He also had to carry water for his mom to wash clothes and dishes.
Palmer ought to have entrance music -- Copland's "Fanfare to the Common Man."
Copland's Common Man and the Biker (a tiny insight into Palmer the Man): Palmer was doing a charity appearance last fall at Olde Stonewall, not far from Pittsburgh, and as he neared the castle clubhouse, the huge wooden main doors swung open and out burst a black-leathered biker, carrying a cup of beer. "Holy Mackerel!" the stunned biker said, in words to that effect, and he jammed his cup into his left hand, thereby sloshing beer all over his right, and he shoved it out at Palmer. "How ya doing?" Palmer said, and instead of saying "Sheesh!" he shook the biker's dripping hand. And when they parted, Palmer wiped his hand on his slacks, walked past the classy medieval restaurant, walked past the comfy privacy of the oaken booths in the lounge, and he pulled up a stool at the bar, to join some pals. Across the bar from him was a guy whose chin hit the wood when he finally could believe his own eyes. And you know what he had to be telling the boys: "Hey -- guess who I was drinking with."
Chilling Thought for the Day: One of the greatest careers in sports history once may have hung by a chinstrap. It was a scrawny little Arnie Palmer who went out for football as a freshman at Latrobe High. They didn't have a uniform small enough. He came home teary and hurt. Deacon Palmer was not your average soccer-type dad. "Quit bellyaching," Deke said. "You have golf." So young Arnie stuck to golf. What if they'd had a football uniform that fit?
How I measure the impact of Arnie Palmer: I take myself and multiply by millions. Golf was the silly game about chasing a silly white ball until that magical Masters in the late 1950s. I had decided to watch a little of it. Palmer had hit a shot that got away. The crowd parted to let him get to his ball. Said the TV commentator: "Young Arnold Palmer is in a little bit of trouble." Said Palmer, after hearing him: "Young Arnold Palmer is in a lot of trouble." Suddenly, there was drama and tension. This was like a 60-yard field goal with a second on the clock. Could this guy do whatever he was trying to do? I 'd have to try this game. Then I was hooked. Millions and millions suffered the same thing because of Palmer. The game exploded. Golf was born with Arnie Palmer.
Sorry, Ike. Some authorities say that Ike Eisenhower, hero of WWII and then a popular president, was as much responsible as Arnie Palmer for the golf boom that hit in the late 1950s and early '60s. People were swarming to the game, jamming the golf courses. Ike and Arnie were friends and occasional golfing pals. Ike was also an avid fisherman. There were no SRO signs hanging out at the trout streams.
A Tale of Two Booms: Somewhere in the vastness of China there might be a guy who's kicking himself up and down the Great Wall. Back in the early 1980s, someone in Communist China recognized the commercial potential of golf, so there was Arnold Palmer, course designer and builder, building Chung Shan, the first course in post-Mao China. China was one of the few places on Earth where Palmer wasn't known, and so a laborer merely thought of him as some goofy American, offering him a silly little white ball for his coolie sun hat. The laborer turned Palmer down. It was on a slower fuse, but -- as things in China now show us -- Palmer triggered his second golf boom with Chung Shan. And if that laborer knew then what he knows now, he could have had the first Arnold Palmer autograph in the history of China. On a golf ball, even.
Why "The King?" The deep woods had Paul Bunyan, the railroads had John Henry, and Palmer's own steel country had Joe Magarac. Maybe that's the answer. Palmer's more than a sports hero. He's part folk hero.
Character Analysis in 13 Words, free to Barry Bonds, Terrell Owens, and other sports stars who seem to lack a conscience.
When Arnie Palmer shoots 80-something in the Masters, you go talk to him. This was the case in the early 80s. A small group of us found Palmer sitting at his locker, head down, dejected, discouraged, whipped. Finally, one writer broke the taut, embarrassing silence.
"Arnie," the guy said, "we hate to have to talk to you at a time like this."
Palmer looked up and said:
"Fellas -- we talked when times were good, we'll talk when times are bad."
Marino Parascenzo is a freelance golf writer from Ellwood City, Pa., who has covered Arnold Palmer for more than four decades.