Thursday, April 05, 2007

Arnie fires a beautiful opening shot

The sun was creeping over the trees behind the first tee at 7:45 Thursday morning when Augusta National chairman Billy Payne took the microphone.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now on the tee at Augusta National where he belongs to thrill and delight millions of his fans, Mr. Arnold Palmer,” Payne said in the crisp morning air.

And there was Palmer, 77 and silver-haired now, with his driver in his hand. He still has a dashing style, tinted Thursday morning by the robin’s egg blue sweater he wore with navy slacks.

Several thousand fans were crowded around the first tee and down the fairway to witness the moment Palmer grudgingly accepted. While warming up on the range, Palmer had told his caddie, David Chapman, he was hitting it so solidly he should be playing.

That’s why he was so reluctant to play the role of honorary starter than he finally accepted. He still believes – or at least he wants to believe.

As he began to settle over his tee shot, Palmer looked down the first fairway, backlit by the rising sun.

“It sure is pretty, isn’it it?” he said.

Beautiful, in more ways than one.

Palmer gave it one of his classic lashes, tearing at the ball and twisting into his follow through, watching a solid strike sail off into the distance, gently bending from right to left.

He stared it down, smiling at the shot and soaking in the cheers again.

Right where he belongs.