Thursday, May 05, 2011

Arnie CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- At 81 years old, Arnold Palmer doesn't have the game that won him seven major championships. The fans at Quail Hollow on Wednesday afternoon weren't there to see his golf game, however. If they wanted to watch someone bash the ball 320 yards, there were plenty of other guys to follow.
"That's a legend right there," a man said as Palmer walked to the 15th green.
Yeah, you could say that.
Palmer played in the pro-am with his grandson, Sam Saunders, who's in the field this week on a sponsor's exemption, and John Harris, the president of the Quail Hollow Club. Palmer doesn't play very much anymore, but he convinced Harris they should still play the back tees, which stretch to 7,469 yards.
"If you're going to do it, do it right, so we did today. We played where we had no business playing," Palmer said with a laugh.
Palmer once owned a house on the 15th hole and everywhere he went on Wednesday he was mobbed by autograph seekers, young and old. Palmer signed Masters flags, old issues of golf magazines, hats, posters and even a can of beer.
"You are the man, Mr. Palmer," said the fan after Palmer signed his empty can of Stella Artois.
When he wasn't signing autographs, Palmer was giving his trademark smile and thumbs up to well-wishers in the gallery.
"He waved at me!" giggled one teenage girl as if Justin Bieber had just walked by.
As the grandson of "The King," Saunders is used to playing among the chaos. Not only has it helped him deal with the pressures of professional golf, but he's also seen how a smile and a signature can be just as important for his career as a big drive and a birdie.
"He's always handled it very well, and I just try to emulate that," Saunders said. "He takes the time and gives back to the crowds. They're out here wanting to watch us play, and it's the least we can do and go over shake somebody's hand, look them in the eye or sign an autograph. It's not that hard to do."
Palmer didn't play out all of the holes, but he did tee off and play the par 3s so everyone could get a glimpse of his famous swing. When he reached the 18th tee, Palmer was ready to call it a day.
"Oh, thank God," he sighed before lashing his tee shot down the left side.
Palmer ditched the cart and made the walk up 18 to a standing ovation. As he walked off the green, more fans continued to push and scream for his autograph. Palmer was ready to head in, but it was clear the fans weren't ready to see him go.
No one said being a legend was easy, but Palmer sure makes it look that way.
(Bob Leverone/AP)

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