Idylls of the King
Some of the Tour's biggest names are at the HP Byron Nelson
Championship this week, including Anthony Kim, Vijay Singh and Adam
Scott, but the best stories coming out of the TPC club in Irving, Texas,
are about Arnold Palmer, as they always are when he visits a Tour event.
Palmer is at this year's tournament as the recipient of the Byron
Nelson Prize, which recognizes a player or organization for charitable
contributions. Accepting the award, a gracious Palmer talked about how
much Nelson meant to him as a young golfer.
"This is a great pleasure to be able to say a few words about Byron
Nelson, who was my hero and a guy that I suppose other than my father I
probably got more from Byron and the things that he did in golf than
probably any other pro or person," Palmer said Tuesday.
The presence of Palmer in the room brought out some classic Arnie
stories as well. It's not often that PGA Tour commish Tim Finchem and
Palmer aren't the wealthiest guys in the room, but Tuesday at the Byron
Nelson they were joined by oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who could
probably buy the PGA Tour ten times over and still have enough money to
purchase Florida. Pickens is a member of Augusta National and he talked
about how a chance meeting with Palmer on the course led to the shot of
his life. I have a quick story about Arnold and me. You know how you like to be
connected to a legend? But we both are members down at Augusta, and he
was finishing 18, and he was through for the day, and I was finishing
9. So we were right there at the same point. We shook hands and had a
few minutes' conversation. I went over and teed off 10.
But about two months later I saw him, and he said, "Last time I saw you
was there at the club. How are you playing?" I said, "You don't realize
what a person of your power does to a person that's not much of a
golfer." "Oh, what's this story?" I said, "No, I'm serious. I shook
hands with you and I went over to 10 and I hit a nice drive and bogeyed
the hole but played it pretty well. But I was thinking about you when I
teed off 11 and I hit a really good drive, and my second shot was
something that I know you've done many times on 11 at Augusta." He
said, "What's that?" I said, "I knocked it in the hole." He said, "You
eagled 11?" I said, "That's right. After I shook hands with you it
inspired me." This is a true story. And he said, "I've never eagled
11." I said, "I thought you guys eagled 11 many, many times, that it
wasn't that unusual." He said, "Well, it is."
Event MC and local sportscaster Babe Laufenberg, a former NFL
quarterback, had another great Palmer story. Laufenberg talked about
caddying for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman as he played against Arnold
Palmer at a charity event. So I was caddying for Troy on Saturday when we were playing with Mr.
Palmer. They're giving the amateurs the front tees. Mr. Palmer is
playing from the championship tees and the back tees. He was in the
Now, Troy Aikman was still playing at the time, 6'4",
230, big, strong bull of a man. Mr. Palmer was spotting him about 40
yards on every drive and then blowing it over his ball, and I told
Troy, I am going to drop this bag right in the middle of this
fairway if this 71-year-old man keeps outdriving you. I asked Mr.
Palmer's caddie -- on every par-5, he'd hit the drive and the caddie
would immediately hand him a 3-wood. I said to the caddie, "Does Mr.
Palmer have any irons in that bag?" He looked at me kind of
quizzically, and he said, "Why do you ask that?" I said, "Every time he
hits a drive, you just hand him the 3-wood; you don't see the lie, you
don't see how far it is, you don't see the trouble ahead." He said,
"One time I handed him an iron. He looked at me at said, 'See all these
people out here? They didn't come here to watch Arnold Palmer lay up.'"
Now, the downside to this story, I told the story to Troy after his
caddie told me and Troy was tickled with it too. So we get to a par-5
and he has 270 over water, so he wants the 3-wood, and after it went in
the water then I handed him the iron to lay up, and we took double
bogey. I said, "Remind me not to tell you any more stories about Mr.
Not a chance.