Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Arnie

Arnold Palmer turned 80 today.

Golf should declare his birthday a national holiday. Everybody smiles, hitches their pants with their wrists, makes eye contact with others, whips at the ball like a man pulling a vine from a tree, tries a shot they shouldn't, wears an alpaca cardigan with the sleeves pushed up like back in the day and, at the end, everyone raises a glass to the King.

There never has been and never will be anyone like Arnie.

Phil Mickelson comes the closest these days but even Lefty will admit he's no Arnie.

Arnie, at least since he introduced golf to the television age, has always been bigger than the game. He'd argue that out of respect for the game but he remains, even in the glare of Tiger Woods' brilliance, the defining figure in golf over the last half-century.

Age has robbed him of his game but not of his presence. He's still the conscience of golf when he holds court.

He proved that superstars can be accessible. No one may have loved the attention any more than Palmer but he set an example every professional athlete -- regardless of the sport -- should be required to study.

Peter Jacobsen has often told the story of signing autographs alongside Palmer one day when Arnie noticed Jacobsen's scribbled signature. Palmer scolded him, telling Jacobsen that if people were willing to wait for his autograph, the golfer should be respectful enough to sign it so it could be read. You can read both of their autographs now.

I'd love to be there in the Bay Hill clubhouse when Arnie gently reminds a guest to remove their hat while indoors. Society should listen.

Arnie turned 80 today and he may have trouble shooting his age now but it's a happy day anyway. He's still around and he's still the King.