How do you tell the story of a life, that was bigger than life? Let me tell you, with “Arnie”, the Golf Channel did one hell of a job.
First, allow me to start with my brief criticism of the series. I wanted to know how exactly Arnold Palmer became the champion golfer of his time. I wanted to hear about Tiger Woods at his par-3 course in southern California with teacher Rudy Duran as a 5-year-old. I wanted to hear about Lee Trevino playing for $20 with only a $5 in his pocket, describing the meaning of “true pressure”. I wanted to hear about Ben Hogan’s relentless, often times obsessive, work ethic on the driving range. With “Arnie”, we didn’t get that.
It seemed he was born in Latrobe, grew up and became one of the great amateurs in the nation before attending Wake Forest. A few anecdotes of his improvement in the game would have been good for understanding.
But really, that is the only criticism I have of the series. Narrated by the euphonious voice of Tom Selleck, the series told the story of “The King” Arnold Palmer, a man who perhaps became renowned more for what he did off the golf course than what he did on it. And maybe that’s why they didn’t get too deep into his work ethic beyond the game. Maybe it was to be assumed, given his background.
The must-watch, 3-part series aired on the Golf Channel was phenomenal.
One of my favorite stories (it is truly impossible to narrow this list down only a few) was the 1960 Hockock Belt, an award given to the best athlete of the year. At the time, no one in sports were bigger than the New York Yankees. Famous Yankee right fielder Roger Maris, a little tipsy at the presentation, looked Arnold Palmer’s way before the presentation and said, “Are you in this Hickock Belt thing? What the f*** are you doing here?” Arnold’s reply was nothing. Knowing the type of man Maris was from stories, I can’t imagine the remarks were sarcastic in nature.
But when the announcement came, “Okay, the winner of the 1960 Hickock Belt, is golfer Arnold Palmer,” Roger Maris happened to be close to Arnold. Arnold looked at him. “What the f*** are you doing here?” Arnold said. Maris said nothing.
Now at age 84, Mr. Palmer can tell that story with a laugh and a smile. It was in no way, an all-encompassing representation of Arnold, but it showed his self-confidence. He knew he belonged with the best of the best. It was a mindset which accompanied him to golf tournaments worldwide. What made Arnold unique, was having this mindset in the competitive realm, while being as gracious as he was outside of it.
Stories I loved hearing were about the way Arnold connected with fans, particularly children. Roger Maltbie and Bobby Clampett both told stories about their interactions as children with the great Arnold Palmer.
Maltbie, only 12 when attending a PGA Tour event, was lost from his parents. The boy alerted Mr. Palmer he was lost while Arnold was walking along the gallery ropes. Arnold pulled young Roger alongside him, saying, “Stay with me, your parents will find you with me.” Within only a few minutes, Roger’s mother was yelling his name from the gallery. She was not happy with her Roger, although what he was able to do with Mr. Palmer inside the ropes was very unique.
Another story was told by former Tour player Bobby Clampett, who as a child was at a Tour event. He didn’t have a ride home. Unabashed by this fact, or of one of the great golfers in the world Arnold Palmer, he asked Mr. Palmer for a ride home. Arnold’s response was vintage Arnold. “Sure kid, come on,” he said.
Those two men– Maltbie and Clampett– have become huge names in the golf industry. If these stories emerge years after Arnold’s career, imagine all of the untold stories of people he impacted. It was the type of man Arnold was.
Arnold gave millions of dollars to worthy charities over his career. Arnold Palmer also, flew himself around the world. He was the first athlete in American sports to own a private jet and fly to events, flying these planes himself. Arnold was a certified pilot. Arnold won 7 major championships and some 95 professional events worldwide.
Facts surrounding Arnold’s playing career can be looked up on Wikipedia, but it is the stories which can be easily lost. The Golf Channel worked to preserve these stories. Many impactful stories and amazing testaments to Mr. Palmer and his character were shared during the series. But in the words of Arnie, the most important thing for him, “was how good the game was to him.”
In the finale, the series closed with a line I believe said it best….
“There are a lot of reasons of course, why people think golf is great, but Arnold Palmer has to be somewhere right around the top of the list. Even if so much of it, has nothing to do, with where the ball landed.”
Well said, Tom Selleck. Well said, Golf Channel.