PGA Tour Confidential: Arnold Palmer Invitational

PGA Tour Confidential: Arnold Palmer Invitational

Martin Laird met Arnold Palmer for the first time after sinking his par putt to win Palmer's tournament.
Fred Vuich/SI

Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.


Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Greetings, fellow floggers. Let’s start with Arnold, four-time Masters champion and the host at Bay Hill. I didn’t see enough of him. What a thing, for Martin Laird to meet him for the first time as the winner of Arnold’s tournament. When you think of Arnold Palmer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? I’ll lead off here. He was annoyed with SI for something we had written. Shortly after, I called him. I said, “Hi Arnold, this is Michael Bamberger from SI.” He said, “I know who you are and evidently you don’t give a s— who you write for these days.” Funny. What comes to mind for you all when you think of Arnold? Is there a more important figure in the game to you?

Also, please give a special welcome to Davis Love, who like many of us was going down the English-major road until he decided to give professional golf a try. Davis, welcome to PGA Tour Confidential, and on behalf of all of us, thank you for your years of providing candid deadline quotes. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from many of us between now and the next Ryder Cup. Glad you’re here and glad you’ll be in the Masters in two weeks. You played on Arnold Palmer’s Presidents Cup team and have known him forever. What comes to mind for you?

Davis Love III: I was lucky to know Mr. Palmer from a young age through my father playing some on Tour and hosting the Atlanta Classic, but my best Arnold story was when he was our Presidents Cup captain, and he was giving a tearful speech about what the game meant to him and what an honor it was to be a golf pro and Tour player, and he stopped and pointed at me and said, “Davis knows what I am talking about.” It floored me and made me proud that I was following in my father’s and his footsteps. And I wish he would get NBC to quit showing that broken sprinkler on 17 at Bay Hill!

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Best handshake I’ve ever had. Practically engulfed my whole arm. So macho.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Arnold is simply genuine and guileless. I love the way he interacts — with anyone. Looks you in the eye, gives you a firm handshake, listens to what you have to say and gives you a straight answer. He’s the best.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I have to admit that I’ve never met Arnold Palmer, but when his name is mentioned I immediately think of the man who brought golf out of the black-and-white TV era and into the modern era. His charisma, his smile, and his game made golf a sport that anyone could get into. I also can’t help thinking of Cherry Hills in 1960.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: When I think of Arnold, I think about a guy who gave an incredible amount to the game, and got a helluva lot too. Have yet to meet him face to face.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: I think of Doc Giffin, Arnold’s PR man forever, who is the fastest, kindest, most helpful PR man ever.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: Well said, Lipper. Doc is a great guy. Got to shake his hand and thank him personally at the dinner they do for the print media at Bay Hill on Saturday night.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Arnie is a real golfer. If he wasn’t in a tournament, he’d still be playing golf somewhere, with some kind of press bet on the line. He’s one of us. A lot of pros love winning, love the money. Arnie loves the game. That sets him apart. In the early ’60s, he was the game. People who knew nothing about golf knew the name of Arnold Palmer. I remember his tearful press-tent goodbye to the U.S. Open at Oakmont. And TWO farewell appearances at St. Andrews in the British Open. If anyone should have had his likeness on a 5-pound note in Scotland, it should have been Arnie.

Lipsey: In June 2003, I was playing Oakmont on a very hot June Saturday morning. I was walking down (I think) the first fairway, and I saw Arnold and three buddies walking off the 18th tee, all of them laughing and yapping away. I was thinking, “Wow, the King really does just LOVE to play golf.” Why else would an old man like he was have been sweating bullets out there on the world’s hardest golf course?

Shipnuck: One time at Augusta, in the ’90’s, in the 13th fairway, he merely tapped the headcover on his 3-wood and the crowd went berserk.

Morfit: I always think of that crazy swing. It was so unusual. In that way, and maybe no other way, he was the Furyk of his day. I came to Bay Hill one time to interview him when nothing at all was going on here. His yellow lab, Mulligan, was bounding around the office. I remember how approachable and easy to talk to he was, considering his fame and legend and all that.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Arnold Palmer was a poster child for post-World War II prosperity and the beginnings of the TV era. He’s great in every way. But I wish he would write an honest and revealing memoir about his life in the game. The greatest ambassador of the game owes us that.

Van Sickle: I would respectfully disagree. Arnie doesn’t owe us anything more. He’s paid in full.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I walked around Bay Hill with Arnie in one of those Shootout rounds with his pals, and every time a plane flew overhead he’d look up and track it across the sky. Then he’d tell me what kind of plane it was and whether or not he’d ever flown one. The guy is totally alive, 24/7.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: The first Tour event I ever went to was the 1970 Byron Nelson Classic, at Preston Trail. Rain necessitated a 36-hole final. Arnie and Jack were in the final group, along with John Shroeder. After church, Dad surprised me and said we were going to Preston Trail for the afternoon 18. I wore my golf shoes (who knew?), and we followed them for all 18 holes. I remember how everybody (including me) was pulling for Arnie. After 36 holes of back and forth, they were still tied. Jack won on the first playoff hole, with a kick-in birdie. I was crushed, but there was no doubt who my hero was.

Van Sickle: The members at Laurel Valley, essentially the club that Arnie built, wear pink jackets, their answer to Augusta’s green jackets. Arnie has known for years what colors he looks good in, especially with his silver hair — sky blue, teal, red and pink. He looks great in a pink sportcoat.

Tell us what you think: Did you ever meet the King, or do you have a favorite Palmer memory? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

Bamberger: Great stuff, Gary. Nobody wears pink like Arnold. OK, new question: You can play a round today with Arnold or Jack. Who do you choose? I’m saying Jack because he will always tell you exactly what he thinks.

Van Sickle: I’d play with Arnie. I’m pretty sure Jack, at some point during the round, is going to ask me to pull his finger. He loves that joke.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I’ll take Arnold, and ask for strokes.

Dusek: For all the reasons people have been listing here, I’d pick a round with Arnold before playing with Jack. With Arnie, I know I’d get a lifetime’s worth of amazing stories, lots of smiles and fun. And for some reason, I think I’d be less nervous too.

Mark Godich: I’ll take Arnie any day.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: I’d pick Arnold. Just seems like he’d make you feel more at ease while cracking jokes and telling great stories all day.

Garrity: We can’t leave Jack standing alone on the first tee. I’ll gladly pair up with him. He’s just about the best, most spontaneous gabber I’ve ever interviewed. I’d learn a lot.

Gorant: Much as I appreciate what Arnold brings, I might have to go with Jack. He’s the one I remember watching as a kid.

Mark Godich: Thanks for reminding some of us how old we are.

Lipsey: I’ll go in JG and Jack’s group.

Shipnuck: You’d learn more from Jack but have way more laughs with Arnold.

Evans: You would learn more golf from Jack, but a helluva lot more about life from Arnie.

Love: Arnold, only because I played with Jack at Seminole last spring. It’s been a long time since I played a round with AP.

Lipsey: Curious, Mr. Love: Who was the more intimidating presence, Palmer or Nicklaus?

Love: Jack for sure, until you get to know him.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, I grew up in Columbus, and my grandmother would tell me about seeing a young Jack Nicklaus at the local pool. My father is a food salesman and helped organize the first menu at the Memorial Tournament. (He has a copy signed by Jack in his office.) Nothing against the King, but I’d have to go with the Golden Bear any day.

Garrity: This is so much fun … I mean, not talking about Tiger and Phil.

Tell us what you think: Jack or Arnie?

Bamberger: I love this Steve Marino. Reminds me so much of Calc. Who was surprised to see him come up short on 17? I thought with the juices going he’d never come up short there. Davis, what’s it like to actually be trying to win your first event? I remember Herman Mitchell was helpful to you when you won for the first time.

Love: It took me a few near misses to get the first win. I would tell Steve that he was just one swing away today, and a few other weeks, from a win, and he is going to get there if he keeps up his aggressive, positive play. The first win is nerve-racking, and then it never gets any easier! Being patient is hard for some of these young guys.

Morfit: I was not surprised to see him not win. He’s got a bad case of the almosts, like Duval did before he finally broke through.

Shipnuck: I get stressed out just watching Marino’s pre-shot routine. A dude that jumpy is always going to have problems on Sunday afternoons.

Wei: What pre-shot routine? He just goes up and hits the ball. He didn’t change anything with that approach on 18, either.

Morfit: I watched him and Levin play Friday, and Marino barely stops moving before he takes the putter back. For a second I thought he was still moving when he brought it back. But anyone who makes birdie on 18 deserves credit. Every pin today looked like it was at the end of a diving board jutting out into the drink.

Lipsey: It always seems like his skittishness will get the best of Marino, and it sure did down the stretch today.

Bamberger: I don’t know about that, Rick — he was a stud on 18.

Mark Godich: Amazing to watch Marino play 15, 16 and 17 the way he did, then turn around and birdie 18.

Lipsey: He just went for broke on 18, having basically tossed away the title, kind of like somebody going low on Sunday with the title out of reach. Nice birdie, but if he’d been tied for the lead or maybe one ahead at 18, I don’t think we’d have seen the same result.

Mark Godich: Oh, c’mon! He was two back, and Laird had two tough holes left.

Wei: It was because he knew he had to birdie. His caddie said Marino hit it exactly where he was aiming: 144 yards, PW.

Love: No comment. I was on the range and not watching.

Gorant: It’s getting to the point where you have to wonder if it’s a few bad breaks or a legit mental block. He can’t point at anyone else for today’s loss. He’s got the game, been on the doorstep a few times. Gotta hope he’ll get there, but he’s got to get out of his own way.

Evans: Ray Floyd would have chipped that shot from the fringe that Marino putted way past the hole on the 17th. That three-putt was the difference in the tournament.

Wei: Marino looked like he needed a hug afterward. He’s hitting it so well. His caddie G.W. Cable said earlier this week that Steve just hadn’t gotten those breaks you need sometimes to win a golf tournament. Then today, he had two plugged bunker shots on the back nine. I was impressed with his aggressive approach on 18. G.W. told him, “Let’s go for it and birdie.” He stuck that shot and made the clutch birdie putt, but unfortunately it was not enough. When Spencer Levin asked what Marino did on 18 and we told him, he just said, “Wow!”

Tell us what you think: Why hasn’t Steve Marino been able to close the deal on the PGA Tour?

Herre: I was surprised to see so many balls plugging in the bunkers. I suppose that was by design. Anyone know if that was new, softer sand in the bunkers? It was an almost automatic bogey every time someone flew a ball either high or into the upslope.

Bamberger: Or the downslope! Arnold wants his course hard. He feels bunkers have been emasculated. He masculated them.

Love: Soft sand has to be a strategy there. That’s the only knock on the course the last few years.

Van Sickle: Yeah, it didn’t make for happy golfers or for exciting TV. And the greens were awfully firm, especially the 17th, which was so firm that even Johnny Miller made a critical comment about it.

Dusek: Davis, a few years ago Jack Nicklaus had the grounds grew at the Memorial use special rakes to create furrowed bunkers. This year the sand at Bay Hill seemed especially soft. As a player, how do you feel about course setups that make the bunkers harder to play or different from those you see week-to-week?

Love: They want the sand to be more of a penalty, and sometimes they go a little far. At the Memorial, the bunkers are so deep now that [Nicklaus] backed off on the rakes. At Bay Hill, the sand is soft most years. They both seem to like Augusta. I wish all the sand on Tour was like Augusta, where just the bunker depth or pin position makes the shot hard, not a buried lie.

Wei: Yeah, I don’t think Marino could have hit a better bunker shot on 17. He was near the lip, too.

Mark Godich: Some of the plugged lies were extreme, but shouldn’t there be some penalty for putting the ball in a bunker?

Garrity: As a spectator, I want to see those fried-eggs and buried lies. It’s a treat to watch a seasoned pro play his way out of a tough situation.

Tell us what you think: Would you rather watch the pros go low or see how they handle difficult shots?

Bamberger: What do you all think about the Florida Swing? Have the courses become too hard? Sunday at Bay Hill really was about survival. The Honda was about the same. Doral and Tampa not as much, but nearly so. TV viewers do love to see Tour players play the shot we (I) cannot: the spinning bunker shot.

Love: Tommy Roy said it best. We need variety, some hard holes and pins, and some easier, and risk-reward for the fans and players to enjoy. But when Tour players struggle in good weather there must be something borderline unfair about the setup. And wow you guys type fast!

Bamberger: Yes, we can type fast. It used to be a marketable skill.

Shipnuck: Florida is the dullest four weeks of the year. Every course looks the same, and the tourneys have turned into mind-numbing par-a-thons. They should play the Cali events twice and proceed straight to Augusta.

Dusek: Says the guy who gets those Cali events as home games.

Shipnuck: Dusek, this is my rebuttal: Pebble, Riv, Spy, Shore Course, Torrey…

Morfit: As a fellow West Coaster, sort of, I concur with the Honorable Mr. Free Shoes from California.

Dusek: Hey, they all trounce the Florida tracks, no argument there.

Wei: Have you ever been to Innisbrook, Alan? That course doesn’t even look like it’s in Florida. I enjoyed the Florida Swing just because I could drive from event to event, and it was sunny for 27 out of 28 days. But for the most part, I like the courses on the West Coast Swing better. Just Pebble, Riviera and Torrey, actually.

Van Sickle: The Florida Swing has been much tougher in recent times, as in before last year. They all grew rough and tried to be U.S. Open courses, which was no fun at all for the players, and no fun to watch at home. They’ve lightened up on the rough somewhat. If I’m a tournament director trying to attract a good field, I’m going with less rough. If players enjoy the course, and by enjoy I mean shoot low, they may be more likely to come back. Assuming I’ve got a decent date on the schedule.

Dusek: The Florida Swing isn’t my favorite portion of the schedule because so many of the courses seem exactly alike. Lots of flat layouts with over-the-pond par 3s, forced-carry par 5s, etc. That said, the TV ratings have been better this year and the drama has been non-stop, so I think the Florida Swing has to be deemed a success.

Evans: The Florida Swing is the best phase of the year. The only thing missing is the Players Championship, which was a better event when it was held leading up to the Masters.

Herre: You have been right about the Players, Farrell, but I think attaching Hall of Fame inductions to Players week is a huge upgrade that will lift the event. I went to HOF weekend recently and had a great time. Plenty of golf, everybody who’s anybody was there, and a class ceremony.

Dusek: You could make an argument that the best day of tournament golf on the Florida Swing is the Monday of Doral…when all the pros are in the pro-am at Seminole!

Love: It’s the first major of the year at Seminole, always fun.

Tell us what you think: The Florida Swing vs. the West Coast Swing?

Bamberger: Martin Laird putted so incredibly with that long putter, and congratulations to him. I love to see Scots playing good golf, for auld lang times, etc. But that long putter, fixed to your body, it really doesn’t look like golf to me. What do you all think? I remember Tom Watson used to be very negative on it, until his son Michael used it so well as his am partner at Pebble one year. Davis, have you even picked one up?

Love: I tried the belly a few times. The only competitive rounds where I used it were for three rounds at Bay Hill. It is not a magic cure, it just gives you new confidence. That is why guys like Vijay Singh and Stewart Cink go long/short back and forth. I don’t like guys using it for a drop.

Gorant: Feels like that ship has sailed, but I distinguish between the belly and the broomstick, and I bet others do too. I guess because the belly is less obtrusive, but there’s really not much difference. Both allow you to anchor the club.

Shipnuck: The way he turned his round around was highly impressive, and he slammed the door with authority. Seems like a legit player, even with that silly putter.

Evans: I did a range session with Laird at the Bob Hope, and he’s a solid guy. He’s not overly analytical about his game, but he is a tactician.

Morfit: This is just conjecture, but that long putter looks very hard to throw.

Van Sickle: Martin Laird was always a solid ballstriker. If he’s going to putt well — much like Nick Watney, for instance — he can become a force on the PGA Tour. I suppose anybody putting well would be hard to beat, but for Laird it’s just about the last piece of the puzzle, whether he’s going with a belly or a long model or a freakin’ hoe.

Herre: Closing three-over 75 by the winner. Not the stuff of legend.

Mark Godich: So negative, Jim. Don’t forget he was five over par after 14.

Evans: Arnie and the Tour did trick up the pins for Sunday. So let’s be fair to the players.

Van Sickle: Yeah, Laird did the opposite of Marino — he messed up early, then came on strong. Give him a little credit for being able to come back and win the tournament a second time when he had to.

Shipnuck: That’s the lesson: better to choke early than late.

Morfit: For some reason I found the final round hard to watch. It just looked too much like the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, but with a lot more water.

Gorant: Yeah, forget the pros, you had to be a grinder to get through watching this week.

Love: At the McGladrey Classic, we cut the rough down before the event because we knew the Tour would get greens fast and tough pins. With no wind, 13 under won the tournament. If there was normal October wind, it would been have been tough. We wanted players and fans to have fun.

Shipnuck: The occasional grind-a-thon is fun for a change of pace, but not three weeks out of four.

Morfit: Bay Hill and PGA National would be probably 1 and 1A for the worst possible courses to try to nail down your first victory. Maybe TPC Sawgrass, too. There’s just too much calamity everywhere you look.

Love: Good point, Cam. And on Sunday with wind and the Tour staff not backing off, there are train wrecks from shots that are not that far off. I would love to play a Tour event at a course that did not know we were coming and was not tweaked and fertilized. The scores would be unreal low.

Shipnuck: Davis, that’s the best idea ever to come out of Confidential. It could even be a reality show: Tour Surprise, coming to a course near you!

Herre: Love it! I can hear the gears grinding over at Golf Channel.

Tell us what you think: If the Tour came to your local track this weekend, how low would the pros go?

Love: [Laird is] a very nice guy. There’s so much talk about the “foreign” players on our tour, but so many of them are full-time members, and live in the U.S. They’re not cherry picking. They’ve become part of the U.S. Tour and we’re lucky to have them. The world rankings are still baffling, though.

Wei: Laird’s bomb-and-gouge game is incredibly “American” and fits the PGA Tour well. He barely even has a Scottish accent anymore!

Morfit: How should the Official World Golf Rankings be improved? I was talking to Chubby Chandler [agent for Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy] and he said Americans are griping more now because the Europeans are on top.

Shipnuck: Make it based on 12 months only.

Evans: I’m not sure what the purpose of the rankings are outside of seedings for the match play. Otherwise it favors international play too much.

Love: Chubby’s guys are on top! It is hard to compare and give points to events in the U.S., Europe and Asia in the same week. I don’t think there is an answer, unless we use FedEx Cup points for every event and major in the U.S., and force players to play more here. I doubt that would go over well at a PAC meeting [players advisory council] or with Chubby — or Andrew as I call him. The majors use the rankings, the World Golf Championships use them, and that’s what has given them importance. There’s no way to make them really balanced for a world game, but it’s the best system anyone has come up with. In any ranking system, some guys are out and not happy.

Evans: What did the majors use before the world rankings? The money lists and past finishes in majors?

Love: Yes. For example, the Masters used wins on Tour, but that did not give them the field they wanted, so they went to the top 50 in the world, but went back when so many U.S. Tour winners were not getting in. The U.S. Open and the Open Championship were heavier on qualifiers than they are now.

Hack: Don’t pay attention to the world rankings. The SI Golf ranking is the one to follow.

Van Sickle: Well bowled, Hack Man.

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