Arnold Palmer is still hitting balls and signing autographs

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
Arnold Palmer is still hitting balls and signing autographs

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Arnold Palmer didn't make a live television appearance at Bay Hill. For the first time, he didn't hit the ceremonial first tee shot at the Masters. He struggles with mobility, which kept him from attending the U.S. Open.

Just don't get the idea Palmer is slowing down entirely.

The day after the U.S. Open, he drove his golf cart up to the back entrance of his office across from Latrobe Country Club. The 86-year-old Palmer had just returned from hitting balls. And he was as frustrated as ever.

"I'm just not making very good contact," Palmer said. "I'll get there."

Palmer, who lost in a playoff at Oakmont in 1962 and played in his final U.S. Open there in 1994, watched the final round and like everyone else, questioned the USGA's handling of a penalty stroke on Dustin Johnson for his ball moving on the fifth green.

Palmer could relate. The conversation shifted to the 1958 Masters, as Palmer recalled a dispute with rules official Arthur Lacey over whether he was entitled to relief from an embedded ball on the fringe behind the 12th green. Told that he wasn't, Palmer declared he was playing two balls until he could reach the rules chairman. He made double bogey with the embedded ball, par with the second ball that he dropped. On the 15th hole, he was told he was right and would have a par on the 12th.

"I played two holes" without knowing what he would he make on the hole, he said.

He was sharp. He was funny. And he is busy.

One of his projects is book being published by St. Martin's Press called, "A Life Well Played: My Stories." The book allows him to share new stories and provide more insight into old stories. In a release announcing the book, Palmer writes, "Though I have written a number of books in the past, this one was particularly important to me because I delved into the process, I realized just how much I still wanted to say to my friends in golf and to fans of the game in general."

The book is to be published at the end of October.

More evidence of how Palmer occupies his time was behind his desk. On a table was a stack of items nearly a foot high — photos, pin flags, books — from people around the world wanting to get them signed. His press secretary, Doc Giffin, said Palmer takes time every day to sign them. How long does he spend? Thirty minutes? An hour?

"Oh no," Giffin said. "Sometimes, depending on how he's feeling, he'll do it for two or three hours."

The British Open returns next month to Royal Troon, where Palmer won his second claret jug with a six-shot victory in 1962. When told he would be thought of during that week, Palmer came to life.

"I might be there," he said. "I'm thinking about playing."

There was a pause. There was a wink. There was a smile.

"Or maybe I'm just being ornery," he said.

CLOSE CALL: There is a fine line between positions in the world ranking that goes on every week, and sometimes it matters.

Last week was one of those occasions.

The end of the U.S. Open was the first cutoff to be in the top 50 and qualify for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, a World Golf Championship that offers a $9.5 million purse and a slight bump in FedEx Cup points.

Harris English was at No. 50 going into the U.S. Open, made the cut and then it was a matter of hanging on. He birdied the 17th hole, but missed a sharp-bending 12-foot par putt on the 18th and tied for 37th.

Then it was a matter of waiting, and hanging on. Jason Dufner closed with a 70 and at one point was in a three-way tie for eighth, which would have moved him to No. 50 by a fraction of a point. But late in the day, Daniel Summerhays made birdie on No. 17 and par on the final hole to make it a four-way tie for eighth and dilute some of Dufner's points.

The result? English remained at No. 50 with an average point total that was 0.0049 ahead of Dufner.

MASTERS PUTTER: Augusta National asks its champions each year to donate the one club that was pivotal in their Masters victories. If it gets the putter from Danny Willett, the club might have to wait until he gets it repaired.

Willett broke it in frustration late in the third round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, though he didn't make it clear if the pace of play or missed putts was the culprit.

"The putter has been bad all week," he said. "Just a bad week really on the greens. They're tricky to read, tricky to keep the pace and line the same. Obviously, the starting and stopping on Thursday, Friday, pace changed a little bit. ... Things just didn't quite go our way. One of them weeks."

Willett said the putter was in two pieces and he'll get it refurbished.

"I won't be using it again," he said.

There was no special tie to that putter and his green jacket. Willett said there was "a lot more than one club" that carried him to a 5-under 67 in the final round and a three-shot victory. And he left open the possibility that the putter, once repaired, could earn its way back into the back.

"I'll end up keeping it," he said. "I don't know, I might pull it back out of retirement."

U.S. OPEN MOMENT: Mike Van Sickle left his first U.S. Open earlier than he wanted, but not without one special moment.

Van Sickle received plenty of attention at Oakmont, not only because he grew up in the Pittsburgh area, but as the son as Sports Illustrated golf writer Gary Van Sickle. He has been grinding on the mini-tours and trying to Monday qualify to make his way.

He made it to the weekend, but only because of the rain delay. It was when he was warming up Saturday morning for his second round that it hit him.

"Some guy puts his Callaway balls way too close to me," Van Sickle said. "I'm like, 'What's going on? I'm going to have to move down.'"

Nope. It was left-handed player — Phil Mickelson.

"Phil is hitting balls next to me and I turn around, and (Jim) Furyk is hitting balls behind me," he said. "And I go to walk off the range and Phil says, 'Hey, Mike.' ... I walk back over and he shakes my hand. He said, 'Hey, I've been following your golf career since you were in college. I just want to wish you the best of luck out there today.'"

"That was by far the coolest moment of the week."

DIVOTS: Jordan Spieth is returning to Australia for the third straight year. He said he would play Nov. 17-20 at Royal Sydney in the Emirates Australian Open, which he won in 2014. ... Lawyers for 168 caddies have filed an appeal seeking to overturn a ruling that dismissed their class-action lawsuit against the PGA Tour that they were treated as "human billboards" for having to wear bibs with a sponsor's logo. A federal judge in February dismissed with prejudice all seven of the contractual claims. ... Nick Raffaele, who headed up global sports marketing for Callaway Golf, has been named executive director of the CareerBuilder Challenge and chief executive of host organization Desert Classics Charities.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson are the only players from the top 50 in the world to have missed the cut in both majors this year.

FINAL WORD: "After last year, to come back this year and perform like this, I think it shows what kind of golfer I am." — Dustin Johnson after becoming the fifth player in the last century to go win the U.S. Open a year after being the runner-up.

This article was written by Doug Ferguson from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.