Long live The King!
“Bittersweet” has been the adjective most often used in describing the 39th annual Arnold Palmer Invitational, the first one since 1979 where Arnold will not shake the hand of the winner and present his trophy.
The event will be a celebration of his life and his legacy, but emotions will be running high throughout the week. Everyone in attendance from players to fans to volunteers to media realizes the huge vacuum that Arnie’s death on September 25, 2016, has created in the golf kingdom, but everyone also realizes that the API reflects the undying tribute to a man who revolutionized golf as we know it.
Part of this tribute began on Saturday morning near the 1st hole tee box when more than 1,500 of the API’s volunteers watched the unveiling of a new statue depicting Arnold in his unique and signature follow through with the driver reaching toward the heavens. The statue has now become the backdrop for family photos, much like Augusta National’s flowered contour of the United States with the flagstick stuck in that Georgia city.
Long live The King!
Golf Channel and NBC Sports Plan Tribute
Golf Channel—the network Arnold Palmer co-founded in January 1995—and NBC Sports have taken the initiative in making certain that this year’s edition of the API will be a fitting tribute to one of the world’s most important sports icons. A series of dedicated tributes and remembrances will be part of the nearly 50 live hours of tournament and news coverage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard from Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando.
In particular, a 30-minute special, “Arnold Palmer’s Life & Legacy,” will air prior to live third round coverage on Saturday, March 18, on NBC. Hosted by Mike Tirico, the show will include two main features: a story from Rich Lerner on families sharing their gratitude by naming their children after Palmer due to his influence on hospital care in the Orlando community; and a special “Theory of Fehertivity” essay from analyst David Feherty. The show also will include players offering their respect and memories of Palmer, along with perspective and reflection from each of the five co-hosts, Peter Jacobsen, Graeme McDowell, Tom Ridge, Annika Sorenstam and Curtis Strange.
On Tuesday morning, commentators Tirico, Lerner, Kelly Tilghman, and Dan Hicks put into perspective just what Arnold Palmer has meant to them throughout the years. Their insights are well worth repeating.
Keeping Yesterday a Part of Today
Mike Tirico: “To be a part of Golf Channel and NBC’s coverage of the API for the first time is a thrill for me. The tournament has always been right around the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, and we are honoring and remembering the all-time No. 1 seed as a player and as a person in Arnold Palmer. He has touched so many people in so many different ways.
“When I look at all the sports I’ve been able to cover over time, there’s no one like Arnold Palmer when you start thinking about individual sports. When you start thinking about team sports, perhaps Michael Jordan could be the only other person in this conversation, but remember the power of Palmer lasted into his late 80s and went on for six decades. Golf has done a great job compared to other sports in keeping yesterday a part of today, and it’s incumbent upon the PGA Tour and the players to continue to do what professional golf has always done better than the other sports in keeping its past heroes a part of its present success.”
What He Left Behind and What He Built
Rich Lerner: “This week will be about what Arnold Palmer has left behind and what he has built—his life’s work. All the success that he had in the game allowed him to do all of these other things for the community and for humanity. He built this tournament, which is still vibrant, and he built that hospital, which will benefit from the tournament. He helped to build the city. Just zero in on Bay Hill. Arnold had the foresight even before a guy named Disney.
“Ben Crenshaw said, ‘No one in American sports ever treated their audience any better than Arnold Palmer.’ So we at Golf Channel and NBC Sports will go into this week with that thought in mind: to treat the audience well, as Arnold did.
“Finally, I think Rory had a good quote when Arnold said to Rory, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ And Rory said, ‘Mr. Palmer, that won’t be necessary. You’ve already done so much for me and everybody else in the game.’”
I Think of Him Every Single Time
Kelly Tilghman: “I can’t tell you how excited I am to be able to cover the Arnold Palmer Invitational, particularly this year, considering how special it’s going to be as we celebrate his life, his legacy, and ultimately, the hospitals that we’ve all been a part of here locally on the Orlando scene. I know that they mean a lot to me. My child was born there.
“I live about three miles as the crow flies from Bay Hill Club and Lodge. I get to pass by there every day as I make my way to Golf Channel to check in for work and check out, passing it on the way home, as well. I think of him every single time I go by.”
That Charm and That Charisma
Dan Hicks in his 25th year of covering the API: “Every single year, Arnold would come up to the booth for a visit with Johnny Miller and me. Last year was the very first time he wasn’t able to make it. That’s when it started to get a little bit more realistic that we wouldn’t be with this guy for years to come. And so I made it a point last year when I knew he wouldn’t be coming up to the booth to go to him.
“Peter Jacobsen and I made a visit to his office at Bay Hill. Our time together was fantastic! Arnold obviously wasn’t quite on his game or as sharp as he’s been in the past, but he still had that charm. He still had that charisma. That ended up being the last time I saw him.”
Long live The King!
(Photos courtesy of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Vicky MacKay)