The 2005 Senior PGA Championship
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Celebrating the King: A Tribute to Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer

Long Live the King

Jim Huber first met Arnold Palmer in 1969 at the Heritage Classic in Hilton Head, S.C. Since then, Turner Sports' Emmy Award-winning essayist has collected a treasure trove of precious Palmer moments. What follows in this exclusive column for PGA.com is one of Huber's favorites.

By Jim Huber, Turner Sports

I don't go back quite as far as some of my colleagues when it comes to Arnold Palmer. But far enough to appreciate how every moment with the man over the last four decades stands indelibly etched on my soul.

He was larger than life when I first encountered him in Hilton Head, S.C., at the Heritage in 1969. The forearms were like a steel-worker's, the hands rough and thick, the still-dark hair tousled just right over an already deeply-lined forehead. I might even come up with what he was wearing that day if I think hard enough.

I do recall his message that day as we gathered at his feet in the media center. He talked of how off-balance golf was, that it wasn't until you reached the stage when you didn't need handouts that you got them.

"I can remember," he said, "worrying about buying gloves and clubs and balls. There are guys out here who are in that position, the guys who aren't making enough. But here I am, with a good income, and they can't give me enough stuff. What's the sense in that?"

For some reason, perhaps for its simple clarity and sense, that stuck with me all these years since.

We have spent time in a hundred different media centers over the years since, on the deck behind his townhome in Orlando, in his old shop in Latrobe, at a bar in Scotland and under a tree in Augusta.

Each time, his words have spilled out not like fine wine but a hard-edged whiskey, a warm edge to each syllable that buried in my subconscious.

But for all of the times, there remains one that will forever be one of my favorite moments in my long-running relationship with the game and its King.

It was the Tuesday evening before the Senior British Open in Scotland. I had worked the Open Championship the week previous and had just driven along the coastline to the lush, wind-driven Turnberry resort. I unpacked and trudged upstairs to find a quick bite of dinner, only to be summoned by Tom Kite and his bride to join them.

They were spread around the room like chess pieces, Palmer and his entourage here, Fuzzy Zoeller and his people there, Kite and a dozen more having just finished their practice rounds.

And there, next to Palmer's table, was a lone golfer of unknown origin, eating alone, slowly, disconsolately, as if it were the day's worst chore.

Mid-dinner, Palmer turned to the man and asked if he was playing that particular week. The man, in an accent that could have been from anywhere, said he was but that the airline had lost his clubs and he was, himself, lost without them. He had practiced that day with rental clubs, hardly the stuff of professional play. He shook his head.

"Doesn't look like I'm gonna be hanging around much," he lamented.

Palmer chuckled.

"Well, hell, what kinda putter do you use? I have a couple and, believe me, not one of them is doing me much good these days. You're perfectly welcome to one."

We all had tuned into the conversation. One by one, slowly, the gathered professionals began outfitting him as best they could with the extra clubs each had brought.

By evening's end, he had a full set, one he felt sure he could compete with. His smile was as broad as his shoulders as he went around the room, shaking hands, before taking leave.

"That was pretty incredible," I said to Kite. "Who was that?"

"Dunno," said Kite. "Arnold, who was that guy?"

"I have no idea," laughed Palmer. "I thought you guys knew him."

It was as telling a moment in time as any I have ever spent in the game, that a room full of men who openly and honestly compete individually against each other would open their golf bags and thus their hearts to someone they knew only as a fellow participant.

"Not unusual," said Tom Kite. "Just unusual that we don't know him."

Not unusual either that Arnold Palmer would lead the supporting parade.

You will hear stories such as this one from every man who ever encountered Palmer over the years. We all have at least a dozen, usually more. Some we can tell, some we best leave to the quiet of a nearby men's locker room, but each, in its own way, telling more about the man than any biography could possibly describe.

He will always be the King.

©2005 The PGA of America / Ryder Cup limited / Turner Sports Interactive. All rights reserved.
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