ORLANDO – It's good to be King this week.
Arnold Palmer, 82, took the stage for his Wednesday press conference, which opened with a favorable bit of news for the event and its host: Mastercard has signed on for another four years as the tournament's title sponsor, which will extend the partnership through 2016. With the press room packed, Arnie sounded off on a number of topics. The highlights:
On belly putters:
I don't think there's ever been a club made that I know of that has not been in my bag. Some may not stay long, and the long putter is one of them. I'm not a fan of long putters. I suppose that if I were playing, and a long putter, being totally legal, and would help my game, I might use it. But I'm opposed to it personally. I just think that there shouldn't be a place in the game for anchoring a club against the body, which is what the long putter does. So, technically, and principally, I am against it. But would I use it if it were going to enhance my game in the competition? I might.
On not having Rory McIlroy or Luke Donald in the field this week:
Yes, I'm certainly not happy that those fellas chose not to come this year. We are doing everything we can to entice them to come and play. When I think back over the years, when back in the early years of the Tour, and I went to the British Open to kind of enhance or to create additional interest in international golf; and to think that those people are now the top international players in the world, we like to have them here. We have a wonderful field, and we are very proud of our field, but to have a couple of the top players internationally and U.S. not here, I'm kind of sorry for that. But I think we can get that squared away, and maybe we'll entice them to come in the future.
On the state of Tiger Woods's game:
I haven't been close to Tiger other than what you do or what I do as far as reading the papers. I have not talked to him personally in some time. And I'm watching him swing and I'm watching him play, and I see some moments of the old fashioned Tiger that is very good. I see some swing changes from time to time that he is employing in his swing, and I question that. But I'm like everyone else in this room, or anywhere that's watching him play; we look for things that are different. And I see some difference in his swing. But again, I can't tell you just what those things are or what he's thinking about how he's going to continue to play. I think he's strong enough and he's smart enough and he's got all of the equipment to do the things that he always did do, and I think it's just a matter of getting it in the proper order to make him play the kind of golf that he played in the past 20 years. So you know, if I were making a prediction, I would say, look out, because one of these days, he's going to come back and play pretty good golf.
On managing his nerves when closing out big tournaments:
I look at guys, and my grandson, for example. I'll say "Sam, what happened, what did you do?"
He says, "I got nervous." He was honest about it. He got nervous, and it affected him.
What I have always contended, and of course the thing that I use myself, was to just have a system, play your system and practice your system, whether you're on the practice tee or whether you're coming down the stretch needing a couple birdies to win a tournament. And I've been there. I've done it, and I know that if I wasn't nervous, I wouldn't be there.
But when people say, oh, he got nervous; hell, I hope so, because that's what it's all about. You've got to get nervous, and you've got to be able to control those nerves. But that is the bottom line, and there's not anyone that I have ever seen including Nelson, Hogan, Snead — all of the great players — Nicklaus, Player, that can say that they weren't nervous and they didn't feel the pressure of finishing a golf tournament, because it's there. And it is always there, and if it isn't, you're not there.
On hitting the opening tee shot with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player next month at Augusta:
Well, of course, you know we are all pretty good friends. We have been playing golf and doing what we are talking about all our lives, in our adult lives on the Tour. We have played competitions against each other constantly. We have played teams together; I played with both Jack and Gary as team members. And to do this at Augusta is going to be a big thrill. I think it's fun. I think it's good for the Masters. I hope the people enjoy it.
I don't think that everybody understands what it's like to stand on the first tee at Augusta and hit the beginning shot. That is something that other than winning the Masters or being there when it's counting, that's one of the big thrills of all time; to see the people; to have the chairman introduce us all; and get into it and start the tournament is something that I've enjoyed. I didn't think I ever would when they talked about it in the beginning, but I guess age has a lot to do with that.
On McIlroy's rise:
I think he has handled himself very well. I don't know him really well; I know him and have talked to him a little bit. But I think he has done a wonderful job with 22 years old and starting a career like he has just gotten launched onto. I had a letter from him as I mentioned earlier, and talking about coming up and having a talk with me. I'm not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me, but I look forward to seeing him and talking to him. And of course, as I said, I'm sorry that he isn't here. But he has mentioned he also mentioned in the letter — that he will be here to play in the years to come.
On how he handled slumps with his putting:
I don't think anyone has ever played the Tour and played it as long as I have with not having a balky putter. Sure, it happened to me. Some of the things that I did were advice from my father. And George Low was one of the guys that kind of used to watch me putt a lot when I was practicing. …The one thing George used to do was say, "Man, you're the greatest putter in the world." Well, that was probably what I needed, somebody to give me confidence in the fact that I could putt.
The other thing that Low said to me one day, he says, "When you're a little nervous and you're having a little trouble with your putting, just put your nail of your thumb on your left hand in the grip," like that, and I tried it.
I remember I was playing in the Western Open and I had about a four foot putt to win the Open, and I felt kind of shaky. I was trying to get myself in order, and I thought, well, what the hell, I'll try that. And I put that thumb up and took a few strokes, and I walked over and took the putt and knocked it in the hole to win the tournament.