Saturday, April 10, 2004


For those of you who hear the word "golf" and immediately experience a severe rolling of your eyes into the back of your head, bear with me. This is going to sound like it's a post about golf, but it's really not.

Arnold Palmer, one of the most famous golfers of all time, played his last competitive round of golf at the Masters tournament yesterday. It was Arnie's 50th consecutive Masters tournament. It's been years since he made the cut and played all four days of the tournament, but that's beside the point. 50 CONSECUTIVE TOURNAMENTS. Think of any other professional sports figure who has competed in an event for 50 straight years. You can't, because they don't exist. Arnie played in his first Masters in 1955, the year I was born.

My father is a golfer and has been my entire life. I spent many a childhood weekend lying around our darkened living room with my Dad watching Arnie play golf in various tournaments. I have no idea where my mother was all those weekend days (reading in the bedroom?) and I don't remember my little brother watching with us many of those afternoons (maybe he was outside playing). But I can vividly recall sitting in that dark living room on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon with my Dad and watching Arnie play golf on our big, boxy black-and-white TV.

In the 60's, it seemed like you were either in "Arnie's Army" or you were rooting for that young phenom, Jack Nicklaus. I always "hated" Nicklaus. Kids take their sporting allegiances seriously and I was firmly in Arnie's camp. And it didn't have anything to do with who my father liked. In retrospect, I imagine he probably had more admiration for Jack's game since he was the better player. But EVERYONE loved Arnie.

I abhor arrogance in anyone. I realize now that that must have been a big part of Arnie's appeal for me. As one of the announcers said during Arnie's round yesterday, "Through all of his fame and all that he's accomplished, we always felt like he was just like one of us. He never seemed to act like he was 'Arnold Palmer.'" In the interview immediately following his round yesterday, Arnie was quite emotional. He commented on all the tremendous support he's received from the fans over the decades. He said he looks out at the galleries and sees their smiles at him and is quite touched by it because he thinks about how much he owes them. One of the announcers also said about him yesterday how he always leaves his fans smiling, how everyone in the gallery feels that his smile is meant especially for him or her, and what careful attention he pays to every autograph seeker--how he takes the time to carefully write his name so that it's legible and will mean something to the person who asked for it.

Those of us who've been in "Arnie's Army" for 50 years joined up not because of his athletic prowess when he was at his peak, but because of who he seemed to be as a man and how he conducted himself in and out of his professional arena. Watching him play his last competitive round in a major tournament yesterday was very sad for me--he's been doing it my entire life. I bawled my eyes out during his interview. The boyfriend was playing golf yesterday afternoon during the original broadcast and then had to dash straight to a gig, so I taped the primetime repeat for him. He watched the tape late last night, and I watched it again with him. Yes, you heard right--I watched it THREE times...and cried every time. Maybe partly because Arnie and my Dad are the same age and the passage of time brings the inevitable thoughts of mortality. Hearing Arnie talk about how he still has the competitive fire but his older body won't cooperate reminded me of all the conversations I've had recently with my Dad about his frustration with his higher golf scores when he still FEELS like the good golfer he's always been. I cried over losing a touchstone who's woven his way through my life regardless of whatever crazy and painful experiences I might have been going through. I cried out of gratitude for all that he's given those of us who've admired him all of these decades and out of sadness over knowing that we'll never see another one like him. (I think it's safe to say that people won't be shedding the same kind of tears 40 years down the road when Tiger plays at his last Masters. He's a robot compared to Arnie.)

As Arnie was standing in the 18th fairway yesterday, waiting for the threesome ahead of him to finish up on the green, someone from the gallery suddenly yelled, "Thanks for all the years, Arnie!" and everyone burst into loud applause. That really said it all. Thanks for all the years, Arnie.


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