Some of you probably remember my Arnie story. Some of you probably haven't. I figure this is an appropriate time to recount it once more.
Back in 2000, the Senior US Open came to Saucon Valley, a nearby country club. It was a Friday and I had nothing going on, so I decided to go over and watch some of the action.
I followed a few groups for a few hours, got thirsty and was walking to a vending tent to buy a bottle of water. On my way, the one and only Roger Maltbie from NBC is walking straight toward me. His headset was draped around his neck, he was chugging a bottle of water. I just smiled at him as he got closer, and said, "You guys do a great job, keep up the great work!" He looked at me dead in the eyes, said nothing, kept walking, not even acknowledging the compliment. Wow... Raj must've had a tough night. Whatever...
So long story short, I finally caught up with the group Arnie was in. There was no way I could squeeze myself into the crowded gallery around the tee box. so I hoofed it down to the fairway in hopes of maybe being in a good spot to see him hit his approach to the green. Next thing I know - a ball comes whizzing right over my head and clambers around in the tree, falling no further than 15 feet away from me. It was Arnie's tee shot that almost took my head off! LOL...
About 3 minutes later, here Arnie comes, walking about 30 seconds behind his caddie. They finally get to the ball, and by this time there's easily 75 people standing to my left and right. I'm like right there, dead-center, about 15 feet away. It's a horrible lie, deep rough, and another huge tree about 30 yards ahead blocking his shot to the green. He's basically stymied. But he fetches a club out of his bag, takes a few practice swings. I tell ya - the guy had these huge hands... and when he wrapped them around the grip of the club - it was like watching a world-class pianist touching the ivories on the piano... so eloquent, so comfortable. I'll never forget that image. His grip looked so natural and so perfect.
Anyway... Arnie is surveying the situation, talks with his caddie for a second or two, switches clubs, takes a few practice swings, does a little more surveying. And then he addresses the ball. And then he backed off the ball, switched clubs again. And then he looked straight at me. I mean he was looking dead at me. And for a brief second I thought, oh shit - I've inadvertently distracted him or something. But nah, it wasn't anything like that. He cast this great big ol grin on his face, looking dead at me, and jokingly says (to me! of all people!), "Young fella, what might you do in this situation?" The gallery laughed, and without missing a beat, I replied, "Mr. Palmer - with all these people watching me - I've no doubt that I'd whiff that shot!" Arnie started laughing so hard that his shoulders were shrugging, smiling from ear to ear, the gallery was laughing, it was just such a neat moment. Then Arnie says, still smiling, "Well... that's not the image I was hoping for, but at least you're honest!" And, of course, the gallery bursts out in laughter once again.
So on the drive home that evening, I couldn't help but think of the two contrasting situations I encountered that day. The first was with a former tour pro turned network analyst, whose accomplishments and contributions to the game might form two complete sentences at best in the annals of the game... who for whatever reason refused to acknowledge a kind compliment that was paid to him.
And then there was Arnold Palmer... 7-time major champion, 62 victories, championed the movement to have the game televised, all of the stories, all of the legend and lore, the greatest ambassador the game has ever known - took 30 seconds out of his life to acknowledge little ol me. You have any idea how special that made me feel that day? How that memory will never leave me, that for 30 seconds of my life - I was part of Arnie's life?
Arnie shot 82 that day. He was playing poorly, knew he wasn't going to make the cut, had every reason to be upset and disappointed, yet never let that stop him from being who he was.
This is a sad day for golf. This is a sad day for me personally. I truly admired the guy, and although he's no longer with us - his memory will be with those of us who appreciate what he meant to the game forever.