Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Although I didn’t know Arnold Palmer, I met him twice – in 1980 on the practice green at Balustrol, and in 1981 practicing at Merion before the U.S. Open. I remember him as approachable…he had time for people, while many other professionals were happy to ignore those around them. I got to thinking about this today- a lot of memories in my career of meeting and seeing celebrities, yet not all necessarily golf professionals.
There was Bob Hope who would show up at Merion and play, but I could never get near him. Jack Nicholas, who wasn’t happy about the scotch broom that grew wild in Merion’s white faces. Tom Watson who autographed a scorecard for me…
And after coming to the shore, there was Willie Mays who would seek time alone playing a few holes in the evenings. I gave him all the space he wanted- yet after seeing each other many times, we began to wave to each other, and in time exchange friendly hellos. I respected his space, and never bothered him- for that I always received a warm smile when we saw each other.
Clint Holmes, the singer/ entertainer, was one of the friendliness persons I can remember.
One day I got a call that a cart had broken down on the 14th and could I go get the players. I think the club’s golf pro still regrets that he had no idea it was Michael Jordan. Here I was riding the course with Michael Jordan, talking about greens and grass…Dr. J was very serious when he played, so it was best to stay away. But after his round, the Doctor was as approachable as a best friend. So was Lee Trevino, who once took the time to walk across the 17th green and shake my hand, and thanked me for the course conditions. He was just giving a clinic, but picked me out…
Oh, and LT, Lawrence Taylor. Let’s just say that I pray that by now he has his act together. I won’t tell the story.
There have been many others during my career who I have met (and not met).
But back to Arnold.
We were there to walk the course and see preparations and what goes on behind the scenes at a US Open, as we were hosting it the next year at Merion. We, us interns, were with our “boss” Ritchie Valentine. He and Arnold were doing print ads for a seed company, so we went to the practice green to meet up with him. I remember him as very genuine, and not in any hurry to end a conversation. He talked with us a bit about grass and about coming to Merion, and he and Ritchie talked about tees being rebuilt and moved back for longer yardages and how Merion was shaping up for the Open. And Ritchie was joking with him about his putting and anything else he could take a little jab at – Ritchie was a character to say the least, but like Arnold, as famous and respected as he was in his field, he never looked down on anyone. He looked up to almost everyone. I don’t remember everything said on the practice green that warm afternoon, but I remember that Arnold put out a radiance of calm friendliness. And I can still picture him standing there with us, as if there wasn’t anywhere else he wanted to be.