Arnold, King of Sport

Arnold, King of Sport

A few months back I wrote about my favorite golf course, which is Cypress Point. If I were allowed to play only one more round of golf, it would probably be there, but lately I’ve been thinking… with whom would I play? I’ve never been one to let a little thing like death bother me, so I decided it wouldn’t matter if my partner has already been planted.

A lot of people sprang quickly to my mind, occupied all the available space, and then a fight broke out between the late Sir John Gielgud and the New Zealand soprano, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. As we know, girls fight dirty, and I had to stop thinking about it when Sir John let out the most fearsome coloratura squeal and fell backward into a drum kit belonging to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, who, of course, died of rock-star enthusiasm back in the 1970s.

Boy, was he something. The only person I never knew who made my calves sore from listening to music. Bonham didn’t play the drums; he tried to kill them. Try listening to the live “Whole Lotta Love” medley from the BBC Sessions CD, and then go hit a tee shot. If you’re not 50 yards longer and stone, motherless deaf, I’ll send you a sleeve of Stratas. I dunno, maybe there’s something about dead drummers that appeals to me; Keith Moon was another guy I’d like to have seen trying to hit a golf ball.

Now that I come to think of it, it’s a fairly eclectic group of people from which I must choose. George Carlin is in there, even though he hates golf. Anyone whose mind works in a way that allows him to discover how we can tell when a moth has farted (it suddenly flies in a straight line) is in my starting lineup.

Willie Nelson, too, and he does play golf. I think Willie Nelson’s face should be on Mt. Rushmore. In fact, much of the uncarved piece of Mt. Rushmore pretty much looks like Willie’s face already, so there wouldn’t be much work involved. Willie just makes me want to be an American. He looks half cowboy, half Indian, half up yours, and half I love you. I know, that makes him two people, but I don’t care. Peace, man, and leave Willie and me alone, we’re goin’ golfin’.

This is so hard. Every time I think of a favorite, another pops up. I mean, who wouldn’t want to play with Sean Connery? I’d love to hear him say, “You’re a shight for shore eyes, Pushy.” Or, more realistically, “Shut up and hit the shtupid ball, you fat Irish git.” Yeah, I’d pay to be insulted by Sean Connery.

Then there’s another of my favorite actors, Jack Nicholson, except he supposedly doesn’t suffer fools particularly gladly, and I doubt very much if I’d make him want to be a better man. Not that I’d want to, as I kind of like the image I have of him. I imagine the risky part of actually playing with any of these people is that I might run the risk of exploding one of my myths, or accidentally setting fire to a legend.

McCord runs into this problem all the time. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard him say to an adoring fan, “Look pal, I’m not an announcer…I just play one on TV, okay?”

There are a number of people with whom I wouldn’t necessarily need to play, but of whom I’d like to ask one question. Like the first guy to have had Lasik eye surgery for a start. “Let me get this straight…A doctor comes to you with a new idea that went something like this: ‘Hey, you with the Coke-bottle glasses, come here! No, over here! Thanks. How about you let me point this little red-hot laser into your eyeball, and burn off a piece of your cornea? Whaddaya say?'”

Somebody said, “Okay!” and it wasn’t Tom Kite. I would like to meet the kind of idiot that would agree to such a proposal, that’s all. It would tend to suggest that while we know that love is blind, it might just have stupidity as a bedfellow.

Playing golf with any of the aforementioned would be a thrill for me, but in truth, I’d probably rather have the chance to just hang out with them or maybe have dinner. You know, observe the creature in its own environment.

Which brings me to Arnold, King of Sport. If I had one round left to play, I would rather play it with him, for more reasons than I have space to write. In my career I only played with him twice, first in the third round of the 1980 Canadian PGA Championship, and then 20 years later with that beautiful thing Joey Sindelar, in a nine-hole skins game for a children’s charity in Rochester, New York.

In Canada, he marked my card, which is one of my most treasured possessions, and is now framed in my study. In Rochester, Joey and I got our comparatively youthful asses kicked, as Arnold won all nine skins, then signed about 8,000 autographs, jumped into his jet, and buzzed the golf course on his way back to Orlando. I had never seen anyone try so hard to win anything and be so kind at the same time.

But the incident that cemented my already firm conviction that Arnold is one of the greatest humans that ever lived happened at the Presidents Cup in Manassas, Virginia, where he was the U.S. team captain. It was one of the first events I worked for CBS, and I was standing on the practice putting green, decked out in full broadcast regalia, chatting with Mark O’Meara, when Arnold, who was mingling with his players, sauntered over and put his index finger and thumb around Mark’s neck, and gave him the kind of playful squeeze that usually costs about a hundred bucks at the chiropractor’s.

Then he shook hands with me, and wished me luck in my new career. I don’t really recall how our conversation led to the point where I was telling Arnold a story, but I will never forget the feeling he gave me by simply being interested. I was having a conversation with Arnold Palmer, in front of hundreds of people who were obviously under the impression that he and I were buddies! Talk about a thrill — I had goose bumps on my hair.

Then, it happened. I lost him. One minute he was listening attentively, and the next he was staring over my right shoulder, obviously riveted by someone or something other than me. I shifted nervously a little to the right, but Arnold shifted with me. Then, suddenly, he looked back at me and said apologetically, “Oh, sorry, David…over your right shoulder. Whoa!”

I turned around to see what had distracted him so badly, and indeed, he was right. A drop-dead gorgeous, chestnut-haired little vixen was directly behind me on the other side of the putting green, about 30 yards away. I turned back to face the great man, who was grinning broadly at her. “You’re right Arnold,” I said. “That’s my wife!”

He looked at me, grinned over my shoulder, and, never breaking stride, said, “Nice job!”

I turned again, and gave a cheery, “Hey, look at me, I’m talking to Arnold Palmer” kind of wave. Anita smiled and self-consciously waved back. Then I looked at Arnold, who was waving, too!

Arnold had always been my hero, but this was the point where I retired his number, commissioned the bronze, and named the new wing on my mental hospital. God, how I loved this man! Later that day, I introduced him to Anita and, wouldn’t you know it, she fell in love with him, too. Everyone does, you see, because Arnold has an extraordinary ability to make everyone he meets feel special. Yeah, that’s it: Arnold doesn’t make you feel privileged, as do many famous people; he just makes you feel special.

Now before you dismiss this as a shameful piece of brown-nosing, there is one other reason I want to play with Arnold. The old fart beat me like a big bass drum the last time out, and he enjoyed it way too much. We need to make this the best of three.

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