Featured Photo: Superintendent magazine’s Lawrence Aylward interviews Arnold Palmer in his office in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Photo: Ronnie Hall
After Arnold Palmer died on Sept. 25 at 87, golf course superintendents and others from the golf course maintenance industry took to social media to remember him with personal stories. They had many anecdotes to share that reflected Mr. Palmer’s amicable temperament. Mr. Palmer never portrayed himself as one of the sporting world’s greatest and most-revered athletes and personalities, which he was. Although he was known as The King, he never acted like royalty.
In my 19-year career covering the industry, I met Mr. Palmer several times. But the first time I met him was 30 years ago when I was a young sports writer for a county newspaper in northeast Ohio. I was covering the 1986 Senior T.P.C. at Canterbury Golf Club near Cleveland, and Palmer, the defending champion of the tournament, was in the field.
The Senior T.P.C. was a big event and worthy of front-page coverage in our sports section. While thrilled to cover the event, I was also nervous, as it was my first big assignment for the paper. Besides Palmer, some of golf’s greatest names ever were competing in the tournament, including Sam Snead, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Charlie Sifford and Gary Player.
As luck would have it for me, the first round of the tournament was rained out thanks to a day of never-ending thunderstorms. Late that day, when the round was officially canceled, I phoned my boss who was in the office putting together the sports section for the next day. I told him that the round had been canceled, and that I had no idea what I was going to report on. He told me that he had left an open space on the front page of the sports section for a story, and that I had to come up with something — or else
I hung up the phone and wondered what the heck I was going to do. The players’ locker room was empty, and there was nobody to interview. How was I going to pull together a story from nothing?
It was then that I wandered into a lounge near the locker room and saw him — Mr. Palmer sitting at a table having a refreshment. I stood there, as numb as a statue, wondering if I should walk up to him and ask to speak to him.
But I knew Mr. Palmer was my only hope to assemble any kind of decent story. So with my stomach swirling and hands shaking, I mustered up enough courage to approach him.
I walked slowly, and it felt like it took forever to reach Mr. Palmer’s table. When I was about 3 feet from him, he looked up at me. I introduced myself and told him that I hated to bother him because I knew he was enjoying some down time. I also told him of my predicament.
Mr. Palmer smiled and told me he would be happy to speak to me — the young, naïve, awe-struck reporter, who he had to notice was literally shaking in his shoes.
I will never forget the impact that Mr. Palmer’s graciousness had on me during that moment. He made me feel like what I was doing mattered to him. He genuinely wanted to help me.
So with notebook and pen in hand, I asked Mr. Palmer a few questions. I must add that they weren’t very good questions — some were about the trite topic of weather — but Mr. Palmer still gladly and politely answered them.
Relieved, thankful and feeling incredibly fortunate, I returned to the office and wrote my story. My boss was impressed that I scored an interview with Arnold Palmer.
I will never, ever forget that interview. Mr. Palmer could have told me that he didn’t want to be bothered, like a lot of pro athletes would have. But he didn’t. That’s Arnold Palmer for you.
Rest in peace Mr. Palmer. In my book, you will always be The King — a very kind-hearted King.