One of the biggest regrets I will have as a golf journalist is the fact that I was never able to interview Arnold Palmer. I have attended a couple of press conferences with The King, but a one-on-one would have certainly counted as a career highlight.
And yet, like millions of others, I too have my list of Arnie tales – brief meetings that have left everlasting impressions. The first time I saw Mr Palmer – he was a ‘Mr’ to everyone, even Presidents of United States addressed him with respect – was under the famous Oak tree of the Augusta National clubhouse.
The year was 2007, and the tradition of honorary starters was making a return at the Masters. Of course, that honour belonged to Mr Palmer. That was my first Masters, and I was excited about a million things, foremost among them was the chance to see, and possibly meet, Mr Palmer.
That opportunity came early. On Tuesday morning, I saw him sitting and talking to people under the Oak tree. The moment he got up, I pounced upon the opportunity and shook hands with the legend. Mr Palmer was 78 that year and those strong, wide shoulders had already started to droop a little.
But the one thing that I still remember is how powerful his handshake was. I am now glad I was at least able to tell him that day how much I respected him for all that he did for the sport we love. He asked me where I was from.
When I told him India, he said: “Boy! That’s some distance you travelled. Hope the Masters is worth it for you.”
That was the extent of our conversation. Short, but cherished. And yes, there was no selfie, because the trend hadn’t started back then. There was another thing I noticed as he sat there that day. His manners were impeccable.
"Remember when Arnold Palmer touched your life and please don't forget why."— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 4, 2016
-Jack Nicklaus pic.twitter.com/fWxbihetM7
Even at that age, and with his stature in golf, he’d try to get up whenever any lady walked up and spoke to him. I then watched him, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player play the Par 3 Contest. Those three guys, between them, had won 34 majors.
And what a show they put up. It really was an exhibition of how to interact with fans. All three of them high-fived the crowd all the way, spoke to children and handed them balls and other memorabilia, chatted with random people and indulged in exaggerated celebrations for every good shot.
Finally, on Thursday, came my other ‘I-was-there’ moment. Mr Palmer stepped on to the first tee and revived the tradition of honorary starters at the Masters with a drive. It wasn’t a very good one. But the 20-deep crowd, which had waited for more than an hour for that moment, did not care. He still received a deafening applause.
So, there you go. Whatever little I saw of him that year, simply fortified the image I had formed of him after reading or hearing all the wonderful things about him. The King will be sorely missed.
RETURN OF THE TIGER
Tiger Woods finally made his return to the golf course – albeit in a non-playing role as one of the five vice-captains named by Davis Love in America’s successful Ryder Cup campaign. By all accounts, he did a great job.
Patrick Reed was supposed to be his responsibility and the young American had a fantastic week at Hazeltine. And captain Love and others kept praising the quality of strategic inputs he was providing. But next week is his return as a player. Woods has entered the Safeway Open, the first event of the PGA Tour’s 2016-17 schedule.
Not many people know the state of Woods’ game right now, but colourful Swede Jesper Parnevik revealed he had been practicing and playing with the star at Medalist Golf Club in Florida, and he felt he saw shades of Tiger from 15 years ago.
Parnevik told Golf Digest: “We talk and have played nine holes together. By the way, he’s been hitting a lot of balls, and he’s hitting it great. He’s pounding it a mile and flushing everything. On the range, at least, his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago.
Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular.” It’s interesting that Parnevik said that about Woods, because he was possibly the only golfer who was vocally critical of the former world No1 when his marriage with Elin Nordegren broke down.
Parnevik felt responsible because Elin met Woods while working at his place as a nanny. By the way, Parnevik also said he has become friends with Woods again and he has forgiven the 14 time major champion because he is “a very good father”, and because he is friends with Elin again.