Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Wouldn't be the same without Arnie

AUGUSTA, Ga. - So Arnie’s going back to the first tee at the Masters. It’s not exactly the way he wants it – hitting the opening tee shot as the tournament’s honorary starter – but it’s great that he’s doing it.

It took Arnie a while to agree to become the tournament’s honorary starter because, though he’s 77 years old, he doesn’t like admitting he’s getting old. That doesn’t make him unique.

What makes him special is everything else. Palmer wants to believe he can still play golf the way he did, ripping at the ball with a beautiful slash that managed to carry the world with him. He watches Phil and Tiger and Ernie and sees them hitting these majestic tee shots and, for a moment, thinks he can still do it. He can’t, of course, but he wants to think he can.
Sounds like all of us of a certain age.

Jack Nicklaus may have won the most Masters but Arnie won the most hearts.

To see him in the interview room Tuesday afternoon – looking sharp in his green jacket and a silver-striped tie that matched his hair color – was to see a man still in love with being Arnold Palmer. That’s the way it should be. He loves the attention and, while that could be off-putting in a lot of people, it’s the essence of Arnie.

He was funny fielding questions from the media about why now and about Gary Player tying his record of 50 Masters appearances. He dropped in the occasional coarse word, flashed that smile and it didn’t seem like it was 50 years ago that he was on the verge of owning golf.

It’s going to be cold Thursday morning when Arnie hits that tee shot. But not nearly as cold as it would be without him there.