Everyone remembers the first time they met
Arnold Palmer — even Jack Nicklaus.
To celebrate his 80th birthday, we asked
those whose lives have been enriched by Palmer —
friends, employees and nodding acquaintances — to share
their stories of golf’s most charismatic star.
Arnold Palmer, who turns 80 on September 10, has probably played more
public rounds of golf than anyone in history. Among his achievements: 92 worldwide victories, six Ryder Cups, four
Masters titles, two British Open wins and a 1960 U.S. Open victory that has been called the greatest ever. Having
hooked a nation on his freewheeling style of play, Palmer then answered three decades’ worth of curtain calls on
the Champions Tour, at Skins Games and, more recently, as the ceremonial first-ball striker at the Masters.
Palmer’s brilliant game was never hidden. Every belted drive, improbable recovery shot and pressure putt — not
to mention the devastating collapses that cost him several majors — received the warranted ooohs and aaahs, the
cheers and groans. It says something about Palmer, therefore, that a recent round of interviews with golf notables
yielded few memories of miracle shots or historic matches. That’s because Palmer’s legacy is his personality, an
amalgam of competitiveness, magnetism and warmth. And if you believe these voices, it was ever so.
Jack Nicklaus His greatest rival
The first time I saw Arnold was in 1954.
I was 14 years old and playing in the Ohio
Amateur. I came off the golf course in
pouring rain, and there was one guy on
the practice range hitting 9-irons about
10 feet high, taking big divots. Strong
as an ox, just killing the ball. I watched
him for a half-hour in the rain because I
was interested in his swing and how he
was moving the ball, these low draws.
Somebody said, “Oh, that’s our defending
champion, Arnold Palmer.” He was still
hitting when I left.
Dow Finsterwald 1958 PGA Champion and longtime friend
His hands were so large that he looked like
he was holding a toothpick. His swing?
Well, he hit at it hard and fast. If you filmed
Arnold and looked at it frame by frame,
he was as solid as any player through the
hitting area. His father had taught him well.
Dean Reinmuth Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher
The first time I saw him was at Tam
O’Shanter [in Chicago] when I was a
young kid watching the Western Open.
Some guy was moving in the crowd,
and I remember Arnold’s head popping
up and his eyes locking on the guy like a
laser. Oh, man, everybody just froze.
Bert Harbin Longtime Palmer friend
We lived on Aumond Road in old Augusta,
and for 19 years we rented our house to
Arnie for Masters week. He liked to repair
clubs, so I bolted a vise to a big old table
and put it in the garage. If Arnie teed
off in the afternoon, there’d be 20 of us
out in the garage watching him fiddle
with his clubs.
Jason Gore Winner, in 2005, of the 84 Lumber Classic
When I was 11, my mom and I met Mr.
Palmer at Latrobe Country Club. He took
a picture with us, signed a scorecard, and
then he said, “Son, I’m going to go hit
balls. Would you like to watch?” I watched
for 45 minutes. And from that point on I
knew I wanted to be a professional golfer.
Bev Norwood Writer and a close Palmer friend for 31 years
Arnold’s final British Open at Troon —
not his final Open, but his final one at
Troon — was in 1989. On the 16th hole
of a practice round, a photographer asked
if he might take a picture of Arnold beside
the famous plaque of him hitting the shot
that won the Open. Arnold said, “Sure.” So
they go look for a few minutes and cannot
find the plaque. Finally, Arnold turns to his
longtime caddie, Tip Anderson. He says,
“Tip, where is that damn plaque?” And
Tip says, “Mr. Palmer, it’s 120 miles
south of here at Royal Birkdale.”
Jimmy Roberts NBC Sports interviewer and essayist
When he said goodbye at Oakmont, we all
knew the significance of it. I was working
for ESPN at the time, and Arnie lost it.
Just totally, totally lost it. I’ve interviewed
hundreds of athletes who cried, but
this was Arnold Palmer at Oakmont. I
remember feeling kind of embarrassed and
very unsure of myself. How do you react?
Do you try to console Arnold Palmer?
Leonard Kamsler Golf photographer
It’s hard to take a bad picture of Cypress
Point, and it’s hard to take a bad picture
of Arnold Palmer.
Bob Goalby 1968 Masters champion
I wrote Arnold a letter the other
day. Never wrote him one in my life.
I just told him that I was honored to
have played in the same era as he did.
I said, “All of us would have liked to
have been like you.” That may not
have been adequate, but I wanted
him to know how we feel.
Peter Jacobsen Seven-time PGA Tour winner
I met him while playing a practice round
at the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble
Beach. I don’t recall the year. I cut across
a hole and looked back, and I saw that it
was Arnold Palmer. I was so embarrassed.
He walked up on the next tee, stuck
his hand out and said, “Hey, do you
mind if we join you?” When it was clear
that I had cut in front of him! My heart
was pounding out of my chest, but
he treated me as an equal. That’s the
kind of guy he is, and that’s the kind of
image he projects — one of inclusion,
Doc Giffin Palmer’s business manager and right-hand man
Probably the most memorable moment
for me was the time President Eisenhower
surprised him on his birthday in 1966.
Winnie set it up, and I was one of the
few in on it. She sent Arnie’s plane to
Gettysburg on a Saturday morning
to pick up the former President.
Eisenhower just comes up the walk
and knocks on the door. Winnie and
Arnie answer the door, and there’s Ike
standing there with a little bag in his
hands. And Ike says, “Do you happen
to have a little room for an old man
to spend the night?”
David B. Fay USGA executive director
The first time I saw him was at the 1967
U.S. Open, a practice round. He comes
walking up the hill on the fifth hole,
wearing a light blue shirt, and I couldn’t
believe the size of his forearms. It was a
lasting image, like the first time you walk
into a big league ballpark and you can’t
believe how green it is.
Renton Laidlaw Longtime golf announcer
I remember when Palmer won the 1975
Spanish Open at La Manga. I went to
interview him in his bungalow. He was
on the phone to his wife, and he was
like a child: “I won again!” I was just so
impressed. He was that kind of competitor.
You’d have thought he’d won the Open.
Louise Suggs LPGA founder and Hall of Famer
I knew Arnold and Winnie before they
were married, back when they used to go
into a clubhouse and order food at a table
for two. Arnold always called me “Patty.”
Charlie Mechem [the former LPGA
commissioner] was showing him around
one day, and Arnold came over to me and
said, “Patty, how are you?” And I said,
“Arnold, if you keep callin’ me Patty, I’m
going to start callin’ you Jack.”
I saw him sign autographs in
hundred-degree heat after he’d shot
74 or 75. He’d stand there for an hour
by the ropes. I wouldn’t stand there for
10 minutes; I’d be churning inside.
But he’d just stand there. I think
he loved the adulation.
Vinny Giles Winner of both the U.S. and British Amateurs
I played with him twice in the
Masters, as an amateur. Back then
they let the galleries get a lot closer to
the action, and there would be occasions
where you had to wait. I remember
my third shot to No. 8 — they had to
move 10,000 people out of the way
so I could hit an 80-yard pitch.
[Laughs.] They certainly weren’t
there to watch me.
Arnold lost a Monday playoff in
Wilmington in 1958, so we didn’t get to
Augusta until Monday night. On Tuesday
I put together a game with Ben Hogan
and Jack Burke. It wasn’t one of Arnold’s
better days, and afterward, Hogan said
something like, “How did this guy get in
the tournament with that swing?” Gosh
darn, Arnold had won seven tournaments
in two years, so I think Hogan must have
just been pulling Arnold’s chain a little
bit. But it worked out well for Arnold
that week. [Palmer won the first of his four
Masters titles. Hogan finished seven strokes
back in a tie for 14th.]
Gary Player Longtime Palmer rival
Arnold fell out of bed with charisma. He
didn’t need to speak. He just had it.