What Do The PGA Pros Have To Say About Arnold Palmer?
For someone who loves golf as I do, writing stories about the best golfers in the world is probably one of the best jobs in the world. When I cover a PGA Tour event, I get to watch these PGA TOUR players compete on the course, and then I get to ask them questions in the interview room and listen to their insights about the game.
One of my favorite tournaments has always been the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Bay Hill is close to my home town of Port St. Lucie, the course is always in great shape, the field is one of the best of the year, and the media is treated extremely well. What’s not to like there?
And, of course, I would get to see Arnold Palmer throughout the week. But the singular moment of the week for me was the press conference Arnie would hold each Wednesday morning. Every single writer would drop whatever he was doing and attend because Arnie, well, he was Arnold Palmer, and he never disappointed us with his wit, his wisdom, and his opinion. No question at all to any of us in the Media Center—he was The King.
This year the API throne is vacant, but the players have taken the initiative, along with the organizers, to honor Arnie and to continue the unique achievements of the tournament that Arnie had always promoted so well. Therefore, I thought New England Golf Monthly readers would like to examine what five of the game’s top players—all easily recognized from their first names alone—had to say about Arnie as they were interviewed this week in the Media Center.
We’ll Celebrate, Not Commiserate
Graeme McDowell has had three top-10 finishes at Bay Hill, including a couple of runner-ups. He’s coming in off two top 14 finishes at Honda and Valspar and won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He is also a member of the API’s Host Committee.
GRAEME MCDOWELL: Yes, first Invitational without the man. And it’s been cool to be part of the Host Committee and be involved in the build-up to the tournament. MasterCard has put together a really nice commercial which is going to be running this week, and I am a part of that. The API was my first big finish, a second, in the United States back in 2005, and that started my love affair with the city of Orlando, which is why I moved here. Both my kids were born in the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.
I think that he would like us all to be celebrating rather than commiserating this week, and I know Mr. Palmer would like to see some great golf played. I’m hoping to play as late as I possibly can on Sunday afternoon myself. This golf course is one I like, although it’s not a golf course that everyone likes because it’s got a few holes that are slightly polarizing, perhaps, when the golf course is set up a certain way. However, for me as a hometown boy it’s a no brainer!
I will always remember Mr. Palmer as a role model. I think the way that he treated people and the way that he carried himself on so many different levels are ideals that we all aspire to. From his legible signature on every autograph that he ever signed, to the way he touched people, and to the manner in which he gave back to the game—his personality was bigger than his golf in so many ways.
The Final Ketel One Champion
Jason Day, World #2, is the defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and one of only two men who have won this event wire-to-wire. Fred Couples, 1992, is the other one. Day won the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straights.
JASON DAY: Yeah, this is a special tournament for me. When I first came over to the United States, I actually moved to Orlando for two years, and I used to live about two minutes away from here. I met Mr. Palmer a couple years into my career when I was playing a practice round, and he came driving up in his golf cart. I have the photos that I got that day in my office.
To be able to win last year and have that celebratory drink of Ketel One with him, the last champion to do so, is a great honor for me. I think what Sam Saunders, the organizers, and the players did today on the range with the opening ceremony was tremendous. We are remembering Mr. Palmer not only as a golfer and for what he did on the golf course but also for what he did for so many individuals not only in this area but also around the United States and around the world as well. I know it’s going to be a little bit of an emotional week for most guys out there because we’re just so used to seeing Mr. Palmer drive around in his cart and to having him talk to us in the clubhouse.
He Brought Golf to the Average Guy
Henrik Stenson, World #5, is making his ninth start at the API. He enters this week with four consecutive top-10 finishes at this tournament and last year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.
HENRIK STENSON: Mr. Palmer will be dearly missed, but we will do our best to make it a very successful week without him and to pay tribute to him and his career. I’m happy to be back, of course, especially because it’s close to home, and I get a week with the family and get the extra local support. The golf course fits my game, but there’s no question I suffered one of my tougher losses in 2015 when I didn’t manage to win here, despite having a great opportunity. [Stenson three putted 15 and 16 to lose by one shot to Matt Every.]
Yes, like many other players I have been looking back at all the things Mr. Palmer did, not just on the golf course. I had two of my three kids born at the Winnie Palmer Hospital. However, I think his most important contribution to the game is that he reached the average guy out there. He brought golf to the masses and made it a very popular game.
I Call Arnold a Friend
Rickie Fowler, World #9, is making his sixth career start here and coming off that recent victory at The Honda Classic. He has yet to win a Major, but he has won The Players Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship.
RICKIE FOWLER: It’s great to be back after having missed last year. I told a lot of people it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do—come up here, have lunch with Arnold, and tell him that I wasn’t going to be able to play. The kind of look he gave me when I told him made it very hard to stick to what my plan was and what I was trying to do with the schedule. If the truth be told, that plan probably didn’t work out the way I wanted it to as I didn’t play well at Augusta. But to be able to have the time that I did get with him, to play golf with him, and to have some of those one-on-one times with him was just fantastic, and I wish I definitely had had more of them. But I can say, and I tell people, I was able to call Arnold a friend.
I first met Arnold here at Bay Hill. I played a junior event here twice and won the tournament in 2006. To be able to do that here at Bay Hill in front of Arnold was special. That began our relationship, and then as I became a little closer to him, there are other memories I’ll never forget, like getting to play 18 holes with him at Seminole and watching him hit his last tee shot at the Masters in 2015. And then, of course, the lunch I had with him last year here.
I feel like this week could be record setting in terms of attendance and TV viewers, just because this is the first time that Arnold’s not here with us. All of us will be kind of paying our respects and honoring someone who has had such a big impact on why we’re all in this room [Media Center] right now.
We Owe Him a Massive Debt of Gratitude
Rory McIlroy, World #3, is making his third career start at the API. He is a win shy at the Masters from completing his career Grand Slam—U.S. Open in 2011, PGA in 2012 and 2014, and The Open in 2014.
RORY MCILROY: Arnold meant an awful lot to every one of us who is involved with golf in any capacity, especially the ones who get paid to play it. We all owe him a massive debt of gratitude for what he did for the game. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a little bit of time with Arnold at this tournament over the past couple of years. I hadn’t played here until 2015, and I really made a conscious effort, because we all knew Arnold wasn’t in the best of health, and I wanted to play before he passed.
I wanted to play here and get to spend some time with him, and I am really happy that I did that. I had dinner with Arnold after the first round in 2015 that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’ll tell stories about that dinner to my grandkids, hopefully, one day. Yes, he was a special man, and Bay Hill’s a special place. I am obviously very happy to be here this week, and I would like to win this tournament in his memory.
As most of you know one of the classy things that both Arnie and Jack Nicklaus do is write you a letter when you win a tournament. The first letter I ever received from Arnold was after I won Quail Hollow in 2010, my first event on the PGA TOUR. Then, after every win since, I’ve gotten a letter from him. Arnold actually sent me a letter after I won Deutsche Bank last year, which was only a week or 10 days before he passed. That letter might have been one of the last letters he ever wrote. So that letter means a lot to me.
Arnold and Jack have set a precedent for the younger professional generation to follow in their foot steps and do these types of things for the good of the game. I remember getting Arnold’s letter after I won my first Major, the U.S. Open in 2011. He said, “You’re now in a position where you have a responsibility,” and his message hit home with me. I have framed every one of those letters, and they’re all in my office at home.
There’s a different feel around the tournament this week. I was going through Twitter yesterday and the sentiment is about Arnold’s “It’s a life well played” aspect. We’re here to celebrate that life well played more than anything else. We’re here to celebrate the man and all that he was as a person and as a golfer. I think that’s the most important thing this week.
The 18th hole will be different without him there, but I don’t think that should be a sad thing, necessarily. You look at the grand stands on 18, and you see all the colorful umbrellas. There’s so much around here to remind us of him. Yes, it will be a little different not being able to have lunch in the clubhouse and see him sitting at his table. But we will move on, and we’ll move on with him very much in our memories. The Arnold Palmer Invitational will still be a great tournament.