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Arnold Palmer's legacy lives in the memories

With the annual return of the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational, readers share their personal stories; other topics include SI's new rankings and the state of LIV Golf

Munster Women and Girls Senior & Junior Open Championships
Arnold Palmer statue on the walk to the first tee at Tralee Golf Club, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland.

Question of the week [Feb. 27-March 5]: With the Arnold Palmer Invitational on tap this week, what is your favorite story regarding The King?

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Arnie was returning to the Latrobe, Pennsylvania, airport with his newly purchased jet and was informed that a ladies flying club had learned of his return and decided to wait for the King. Arnie said to his co-pilot, “Let’s give them a show.” He came in low, doing a speedy flypast and then did a high loop, returning past the tower with the jet inverted upside down to the shock of the lady pilots watching. Yes, Arnie was the King.

Bob Gillespie 
Toronto, Ontario 

I had an Arnold Palmer moment as well. It was during the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah Country Club outside of Chicago. My brother Gary was able to get two tickets for the final round, so away we went to see the action. Arnie was paired up with Jack Nicklaus that day in one of the final groups, both of these two giants of the game in the hunt for the U.S. Open Championship. Needless to say, they had a large gallery waiting for them to get out on the course. When they teed off, we were out on the left side of the fairway where many of the players' balls ended up. Jack hit a big drive — only Tom Weiskopf was longer that we saw. Then Arnie hooked one right about where we were standing, so we ran to look at his ball. We stood over it for a bit then all of a sudden I get a tap on my back, it was Arnie. He said to me 'Let me get in there, son." Holy cow, Arnie spoke to me. He looked over his shot, he had a big tree near the green in his way. He hit his ball right into the tree, it rattled around for a moment and then it fell onto the green. He just smiled. Out in the fairway Jack was just shaking his head.

Jeff Erlenborn
Lansing, Illinois

In 1957, I was 12 and starting to get interested in golf. The Carling Open was coming to the Flint Golf Club and the head pro, Eddie Kirk, told my dad that Ken Venturi was the guy to watch — the next coming star. So Dad and I made our way onto the course and found Venturi as he left the 14th green. I went right up to him with an autograph book and was told — not brusquely, but clearly — not now. Neither I nor dad had a clue that we shouldn’t bother a player during the round, but I was crestfallen until I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder from another player in the group. He said "It’s OK son, find me as I finish my round and I’ll help you get some autographs." That personal touch came from the man who came to embody the personal touch, Arnold Palmer. He saw a disappointed youngster and decided to do something about it. After the round, he spotted me and got me those autographs — including his and Venturi’s.

Steve Braun
Charlevoix, Michigan

I was priveleged to have Mr. Palmer utilize a training aid I invented. One year at his tournament I was walking in front of the clubhouse and I heard someone calling my name. It was Mr. Palmer himself. He called me over and said the following: “Juan, you know I love your product and I use it everyday. I have an idea on how you might make it even better, have you got a minute?” He invited me up into his office and spent 15-20 minutes with me offering his suggestions. Wow, Arnie the King taking time (during the tournament) to share his ideas with me. Amazing. I will treasure those private moments with Arnie forever.

Juan Elizondo
Omaha, Nebraska

Arnold Palmer being our favorite golfer, my wive and I made a trip to Latrobe, Pennsylvania. We just wanted to see his home and hoped to just catch a glimpse of him. We did not, but we did see his home and course. We later drove to Akron, Ohio, to watch the old World Series at Firestone Country Club. Arnold was not playing, but was a walking commentator and when we got the chance, we started talking to Arnold and walking down the fairway with him. He treated us like his best friends. He truly was the best and remained our favorite player. It may sound silly, but to two 20-year-olds the experience was a touching moment for us. He will always be the King.

Robert and Charlene Lewis
Zanesville, Ohio 

About 20 years ago I attended the Boston Pops Christmas show. During intermission I went to the men’s room. On my way out, I thought I saw a familiar face that looked an awful lot like Arnold Palmer. Thought nothing more of it. Went home after the show. Watched the late news and on the sports news it was mentioned that Arnold Palmer had flown in to attend the Boston Pops show. I was so disappointed because I would have loved to have said "Hi” and shake his hand. He was always so receptive to his fans.

Arthur Buonopane
Winchester, Massachusetts

It was a cool Friday at Augusta National and I happened to be there with a course full of others. This was to be Arnold's last day playing in the Masters [2004], in fact, playing professioially anywhere.  

I distinctly remember him teeing off at No. 7 and pull-hooking his shot into the trees. Whooping started. Next shot? Chipped out into the fairway because he had no alternative. The whooping got louder. Plunked the third shot in the front bunker, fourth shot to the back of the green and three putts later he had his triple bogey in hand.   

And the Crowd? The entire property went nuts. The score meant nothing, but the man that made that 7? Truely the King. The whooping continued as he went on to finish his last round at Augusta. Truely thankful I was there to see it.

Tom Powers
Bradenton, Florida

Being born in 1952, I grew up with my father leaving early Sunday morning to meet his occasional group at Bethpage [State Park Golf Course in Farmingdale, New York]. I never got to go. When I was 11, we moved to Connecticut. My earliest memory of watching golf is limited. Black and white TV, very little coverage, only the sports section in the newspapers. My parents joined a private club before I turned 12 in 1963. I remember being involved in the club’s juniors’ programs — golf, bowling and swimming. You would hear some of the members talking about Arnold, 40 somewhat wins thru 1963. Talking about the upcoming Jack Nicklaus. My club friends would be on the putting green emulating these two golfers. As I got older and started to play golf as an adult, you would hear stories about how open and welcoming Arnie was to the young pros and how he always was available for the golf patrons who had become to be part of Arnie’s army. Golf today, would not be where it is if wasn’t for Arnie and his rivalries. His compassion for the game, his ideals to make golf a better place for all. We all mourned when Arnie passed on, I will always remember one of the last times I watched him play and he hit driver off the deck into 18 with his grandson on his bag. Thank you, Arnie.

Brian Nelson
North Haven, Connecticut

I had the opportunity to play golf with Arnie on a nice February day in 1989 at Bay Hill. We both shot 36 on the back nine — I had 11 putts, so very unusual for me.

While standing on the 18th green, Arnold asked me what I did for a living. When I returned home, I told my boss what he had asked me.

My boss then said to me "I would liked to have been there to hear your answer."

Dave Wells
Memphis, Tennessee

The first PGA Tour tournament i attended was the 1963 Western Open at Beverly Country Club in Chicago. Walking up to the range, I saw a ball rising like a jet. In the days of balata and persimmon, I had never seen a drive take off like that. I was so in awe that I didn’t realize Arnold Palmer was walking right toward me. He looked down, chortled and said: "Boy, you might want to close your mouth before a bug flies in." The crowd laughed; I’m sure I blushed out of embarrassment. What I remember most was his forearm, the size of a thigh, reaching out to pat my shoulder. He asked if I had a ticket. I fumbled around and said "Yes, sir." He took it from me (I really didn’t know if I had done something wrong) and signed it. That kindly parting smile has stuck with me 60 years.

Joseph Greenberg
Atlantic Beach, Florida

Arnie hit his drive left on a hole number I’ve forgotten and ended up 30 yards behind a low-hanging willow tree. I said to my brother, "He’s gotta chip out and the go for the green."

After a few minutes of thought and reconnoitering, Arnie went to his bag and selected a fairway wood. He was going to challenge the willow and go for the green. He played the ball by his back foot, and swung.

The ball went under the willow and rolled to within 3 feet of the cup. He birdied the hole and I learned to never underestimate the King.

Rich Ferguson
Shrewsbury, Massachusetts

My favorite Arnold Palmer story is one of personal experience. I was in Stuart, Florida getting ready to head back to Tennessee on the Wednesday of Bay Hill week 1993.  On a whim, I checked Arnie's tee time for Thursday, and it was pretty early. I guessed it would take 2 1/2 to 3 hours to get from Stuart to Bay Hill, park, and get in the gate. That's long before I-phones and GPS. It was more of a Rand McNally atlas for me. I was hoping I could make it to see him play the back nine. I entered the gate near the 9th green and  Arnie was in the fairway getting ready to hit his second shot. What timing.. And it was cold. We're talking 48 degrees with the wind blowing 20-25.  

Arnie pars No. 9 and here we go to 10. With the weather, and it being about 10 a.m. on a Thursday, there may have been 200 people following the group, if that many. Arnie was playing with Ernie Els and Andy Bean. Of the 200 or so people, Arnie either knew or acted like he knew every one of them. He constantly waved, acknowledged, and even shook a hand or two as he made his way from tee to green, always smiling. I could have reached out and touched him on multiple occasions. Els and Bean outdrove him by 50-60 yards on every hole, but Arnie hit his patented draw on every driving hole right down the middle, knocked it on both par 3's, and made 6 pars and 3 birdies for a tidy 33. This set the stage for Arnie making his last PGA Tour cut.  

This was the only time I ever saw the King in person.  What a thrill, and what a memory.

Barry Duckworth
Knoxville, Tennessee

When I was growing up, I was the only person in my family who was interested in golf.

For my 16th birthday present, my parents gave me a season pass to the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. (We lived a few miles away in Bethesda, Maryland.) My mom would drop me off early in the morning and pick me up at dusk. It was very hot that week — indeed, the winner, Ken Venturi, famously suffered from heat exhaustion during the 36-hole final round — so my parents gave me a plastic foam version of a safari pith helmet to keep my head cool.

Arnold Palmer Clip — 1964

On Tuesday morning, I was watching the contestants warm up at the range. In those days — amazing, but true — the pros had to pay for their range balls. That week, the price was 65 cents for a small bucket. Arnold Palmer came to range ... and all he had was a $100 bill. The range cashier did not have enough change for him to get a bucket of balls. So Arnie asked the crowd if anyone can break his $100 bill. The man standing to my left says "I can!" Arnie walks over, got his change and then his bucket.

A newspaper photographer took a photo of the transaction, which appeared the next morning in a local newspaper. The photo showed Arnie on the left and the man making the change on the right. Smack dab in the middle, beaming broadly and wearing that big white helmet that dominates the image, there I am.

There was a short Associated Press wire story that described the first part of this incident ... and it appeared in many newspapers. But this story failed to mention that after the "loud guffaw," Arnie did get change for his $100 bill and was able to get a bucket of range balls. 

Mike Ross
San Jose, California

I had the opportunity to play golf with Arnie on a nice February day in 1989 at Bay Hill. We both shot 36 on the back nine — I had 11 putts, so very unusual for me.

While standing on the 18th green, Arnold asked me what I did for a living. When I returned home, I told my boss what he had asked me.

My boss then said to me "I would liked to have been there to hear your answer."

Dave Wells
Memphis, Tennessee

I just read the article on SI's new world golf ranking system [SI debuts world golf ranking system that factors in LIV Golf, Feb. 26, 2023]. I would just like to say, "Great job." I am not a big LIV Golf supporter, but I felt from the beginning that there was no reason the LIV golfers shouldn't receive world ranking points, but they would have to be discounted to some degree for the smaller field size and other factors. 

It appears to me that the SI team has covered all of the key aspects of the adjustments needed, and I also like the reduction to the one-year time frame with further adjustment for activity more than four months and eight months old. The Distance Per Shot factor is something new, and will take some getting used to, but it also makes sense and I like the fact that it can be applied to tournaments of less than 72 holes (with appropriate adjustments).

I really felt from the beginning that the PGA Tour was giving LIV a strong arguing point by totally shutting them out of the OWGR. As the article points out, the LIV golfers will still have an uphill battle to maintain a strong position in the SIWGR because of the 54 holes, the smaller field size and the fewer top 100 players in the field. The new system seems very equitable to me and will reduce LIV's arguing points on the issue.

I hope that the SIWGR will continue to receive coverage and comment in the golf world and possibly replace the OWGR.  Although I'm sure if the OWGR sees the SIWGR growing in popularity and acceptance, they will quickly modify the OWGR (while maintaining its independence of course) to keep it (and the OWGR board members) relevant in the game.

Again, a tip of the cap to the SI team for coming up with this new concept. I think it is a great contribution to the game.

P.S.: I can see it now when the OWGR announces its "new" system, which will be remarkably similar to the SIWGR. They will say that they have been working on this for over a year and the SIWGR just happened to introduce their new system before the "new" OWGR was 100% ready.  

John Abercrombie
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

So I'm sitting here in Minnesota, watching the LIV Golf tournament from Mayakoba Country Club [in Mexico]. We had 14 inches of snow over the last three days and wish I was there. 

The sidebar leaderboard is a little easier to see and goes deeper than the tiny box in the corner of PGA Tour broadcasts. Other than that, it kind of looks like a golf tournament with very small crowds — more like Korn Ferry than the PGA Tour. Some players are wearing shorts and while that looks different, I'm fine with that. 

Some people have claimed that the top players are now on the LIV tour, but looking over the teams I don't see that. I'll certainly give that designation to Dustin Johnson, Cam Smith and even Patrick Reed. Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. Not clear if injury — self-inflected in DeChambeau's case — has short-circuited a great career. Then there are a few could-have-beens if they had stuck around like Joaquin Niemann and Harold Varner III — and add another one or two here if it makes you happy. Otherwise, I see aged-out guys, never-were guys and who is that? Speaking of the players — special shout out to Richard Bland. I am actually happy for that everyman golfer getting to cash in as his sort of no-where career was coming to an end. 

So? Is it great? A fabulous new way to hold a professional golf tournament? Golf is an inherently boring game to watch although it can be exciting on Sunday afternoon if two or three guys are going to the wire. The shotgun start makes it a little confusing, but what about the team competition? A farce, but a good way to hand out some more money. The team names are of a level reached by 8-year-old boys forming a club. The only thing missing is "no girlz allowed, keep out" scrawled beneath the team logo. 

I'll give LIV a pass. If you like it and don't mind the Saudi involvement in 9/11 or cutting up journalists, then enjoy. And yes, I do think there's a difference between purchasing something that has Saudi investment or even playing in a tournament in Saudi Arabia and actually working for them as an employee, which the LIV players are. It's the difference between buying and taking Bayer aspirin when Bayer was supplying the Nazi war machine and taking a job as a guard out at the camp on the edge of town. 

Blaine Walker
St. Paul, Minnesota 

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