Tour pros remember the first time they shook Arnold Palmer’s hand

March 22, 2012

Padraig Harrington: "First time I shook his hand would have been at his event in 1998. I got an invite to Bay Hill, and he really does have the presence and charisma. I think it was in the clubhouse and a reasonably formal setting. He was managed by IMG, too, so it kind of just happened. There wasn't any time to be nervous. You have a heightened awareness because you feel like you want to take everything in and you think, 'I gotta learn something from this handshake.' Here he is, the man. It's a little bit of a buzz-out."

Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Padraig Harrington

Peter Morrison/AP
Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer and Padraig Harrington received honoray degrees from the University of St. Andrews in 2010.

Steve Stricker: "I was sponsored by Palmer Peerless Clubs my first three years out on Tour, so I got to be around Arnold a little bit. One time that really sticks out in my mind. We finished the Bay Hill tournament, it had to be '94 or '95, and my wife, Nikki, who was caddying for me that week, went up the next day on that Monday to his office to thank him. Arnold said, 'C'mon, sit down.' He opened up this book of all his results over the years and just told us some stories. It was like going to your grandpa's house and listening to the olden days. It was a pretty neat experience and one we talk about occasionally, just how surreal it was to be in his office and hearing his stories."

Charl Schwartzel: "Two years ago I was on the third tee at Bay Hill on a Tuesday afternoon by myself. Arnold Palmer stopped by in his golf cart. I hadn't shaved and I had a bit of a beard. He stood on the tee, looked at me, and said, 'I hope when I give you the trophy on Sunday, you'll be clean cut.' That very night, my beard came off."

Bo Van Pelt: "I played on the first-ever U.S. Palmer Cup team in '97 at Bay Hill when I was in college. I met him the night we had a dinner, and I still have the picture. I remember one of his fingers was as wide as two of mine, and when you reached in there for a grip, you knew you were shaking a man's hand."

Charles Howell III: "It was the very first time I played the Shark Shootout at the White Course at Doral in 2000, during the second round on the first tee. It was the most nervous I've been shaking someone's hand. Adam Scott and I were partners and we were paired with Arnold Palmer and Peter Jacobsen. For a silly-season team event, I was really nervous. I had a hole-in-one that round and I still have the golf ball, so my first hole-in one in competition was playing with Arnold."

Adam Scott: "He gave me an invitation to his tournament when I was 20 years old in 2001. During the first round on Thursday at Bay Hill, I was coming off the first green and he came over, shook my hand, and said, 'Hi Adam, I've been following you…' I was shocked that he even knew who I was at that point. That was quite amazing to me."

Martin Laird: "I was on the 18th green after winning at Bay Hill last year. It was all kind of a blur, but I remember he congratulated me and I said something like, 'Tough golf course.' It was obviously special to shake his hand for the first time after winning his event."

Martin Laird, Arnold Palmer

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
Arnold Palmer and Martin Laird shook hands after Laird won the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Greg Chalmers: "I can remember the first time I wanted to shake his hand. In 1994 I won the French Amateur, and part of winning that was you got to play in the 25th anniversary of the Lincoln Trophy, which at the time on the European Tour was an event with 60 players only. I had arrived from Australia at 5 a.m. on Monday morning and I was staying on the 17th hole, so I played the 17th and 18th holes. I was an amateur carrying my own bag, and it was 7:30 in the morning. There was one man on the tee, and it was Arnold Palmer. I didn't have the cojones to ask him for a game of golf. I thought he might have figured it out when every green I didn't putt, I just picked up my ball and ran to the next tee and stood there to watch him. That's probably one of my actual regrets. I know he'd be the kind of guy that would have said, 'Yeah, let's go for a game.' I can't say I remember the first time I shook his hand, but I certainly remember the first time I wish I did."

Graeme McDowell: "At Bay Hill in 2005 I finished tied for second, and it was my first-ever big finish in a PGA Tour event. He congratulated me for a good tournament at the back of the 18th green, and he kind of had that look in his eyes that said, 'Who are you? What are you all about?'"

Jamie Lovemark: "I was at the 2007 Palmer Cup at Caves Valley. He flew down for the day before the matches started, and I shook his hand there. But the second time I met him was in 2010 at Bay Hill during his tournament. First thing he said to me was, 'Is your signature legible?' I said, 'Eh, kind of.' He goes, 'Well, next time make sure it is.' So now I practically spell it out. He always wrote, 'Arnie,' and it was very legible, whereas a lot of guys just scribble it out."

Luke Donald: "I got a sponsor's invite to Bay Hill my first year on Tour in 2002. He was walking out across the putting green and shook my hand. As someone just starting out as a professional, it was a pretty cool moment. You're always a little star struck your first year on Tour, and you see the King walking up to you — he'd probably heard of me playing well as an amateur — and he said hi and good luck. I was excited he took the time to do that."

Rocco Mediate: "When I was 19, at Latrobe Country Club. That's the first time I played with him. Two buddies of mine, Danny Bonar and Chris Adams, promised me they'd get me a game with Mr. Palmer. I said, 'Oh, that'd be great some day.' So I was at Greensburg Country Club, where I grew up playing with a couple buddies, and I got a phone call that Danny and Chris had a big money game and wanted me to come over. I said, 'Absolutely,' so 20-minute drive over to Latrobe, and I figured we were going to play with a couple of their other buddies that we always play a little money game with. So I get there on the first tee and I'm walking around the corner, and back then there was no range at Latrobe, so Mr. Palmer would take a shag bag, hit them down the fairway, the guys would pick them up, he'd go play. Well, he's on the first tee hitting shots, I'm like, 'Oh no, I wasn't expecting this.' So I thought for a second to turn around and get back in the car and go, because I was so nervous, but I said, 'Ah no, the hell with it, I'll do it.' So I went up, he came right up to me and introduced himself, and we've been buddies ever since. He was just really cool. Very special."

Rocco Mediate, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson

Rocco Mediate, left, Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson played a practice round at the Masters on April 10, 1991.

George McNeill: "I had just won the Qualifying School [in 2006] and I went up to Bay Hill before I left for the first event, the Sony Open, of my rookie year. I went up to play with a group of guys one of the first days in 2007, and Arnold happened to be playing out there, too. He asked, 'Are you coming to play in our tournament?' I said, 'Well, I'm going to need some help to get into the event.' And he said, 'We'll see what we can do.' I didn't get in that year, but I won later that year, so I earned my way in 2008."

Brandt Snedeker: "I met him at a dinner Tuesday night the week of my first Masters in 2004 when I was an amateur. It was a pretty cool experience to be there with him and play right in front of him that Masters. It was his last one he played in. I just remember I was super-nervous and I could hardly believe I was meeting him. The one thing about Arnold is that he's always very knowledgeable about up-and-coming players. He knew I had won the U.S. Public Links and played great in the finals. It just blew me away that he was paying attention to that kind of stuff. It's just the kind of guy he is."

Joe Ogilvie: "I was playing the U.S. Junior Amateur at Bay Hill. When you play in it for three years in a row, the USGA gives you a Silver Medal. Arnie was giving out the honor. I still have the picture of him shaking my hand in my office. I hadn't met Nicklaus at the time, so he was the first guy hero I met. I was kind of in a daze, but for a 17-year-old, that was pretty cool.

Brian Gay: "When I was 15, Arnold came to Dothan Country Club, my home course, and my parents let me skip school. He did some sort of corporate outing and played in an exhibition. I met him and got my picture taken with him. My wife Kimberly had him sign it [a few years ago] and it's in my office now. It was cool to have him there, especially — of all places — in Dothan, Alabama."

David Toms: "I first met Arnold Palmer my freshman year of college. I was playing in the NCAAs at Bermuda Run, which is near Wake Forest. He spoke at a dinner we had there the one night, and I got to shake hands and meet him. The funny story is that he's speaking after dinner and everybody's got to go to the bathroom, and nobody wanted to get up, and he was pretty long-winded, so when he finally finished his talk, everybody just made a beeline for the bathroom. Don't want to walk out on Arnold [laughs]."