They call him the King. One word, but the definition runs deep. The name befits the legendary Arnold Palmer. It can be used to describe his impact on the game of golf. It describes him as a leader, the leader of an army of his fans that is still following him to this day. And it describes a man that is much bigger than his accomplishments in the game he loves.
At 79, Palmer still spends every day giving back to the sport that gave him so much. Heís still a fixture at the Masters, he hosts his own tournament on the PGA Tour at Bay Hill, his winter home in Florida and he recently teamed with the USGA for the grand opening of the USGA Museum and the Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History in Far Hills, NJ. The remodeled museum encompasses the new 16,000-square-foot Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History, comprising more than 5,000 square feet of public exhibition galleries.
The Palmer Center was so named to honor the enduring connection that Arnold Palmer represents between golf and the people who play and love the game. It was his bold and charismatic style of attacking a golf course that has left the most indelible mark on his place in history, a place distinguished by 7 major victories. He was the first man in history to have won the Masters four times and eventually won 62 events on the PGA Tour. He played on 6 Ryder Cup teams and was the winning captain twice. Palmer was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
Arnold Palmer is quite simply one of the most important individuals ever in the history of the game.
Matt Adams: Itís great to see that youíre still out there playing golf all the time, arenít you?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well not all the time but I try to play quite a bit.
MA: Youíve already given so much, Mr. Palmer, to the game of golf, yet you seem to still always be giving back. Do you have a sense of obligation to the game?
AP: Oh, I certainly do. All the things that I have derived either directly or indirectly through the game of golf are things I owe a great deal to the game and to the people who support the game.
MA: What do you think about the state of the game of golf overall right now?
AP: All the things that are happening are an indication of how great the game is and how the game has really gone on through the years and of course the very tournament that you talked about a few moments ago my tournament at Bay Hill. We started the tournament 30 years ago with a 100 thousand dollar purse and this year our purse was $5.8 million. That tells you something about the state of the game and the fact that it has progressed so well over the past 30 years and I see it continue to progress. Iím not sure that the percentages or the purses will increase as much as they have in the past 30, but I think that it will continue to grow.
MA: Why do you think that is? What is it about this game of golf that is continuing to attract not only the large dollars and purses but growing excitement from people. Is it the Tiger Woods factor or is broader than that?
AP: Well, I certainly think that Tiger has brought a certain elevation to the game with his prowess and how well heís played. I think the average player and the guy walking down the street can feel what is happening to the game and of course he is looking to get out on the golf course and play the game that is a challenge to every person who plays it.
MA: How important is the physical aspect of your game?
AP: Well, I certainly think that that is very, very important and an attitude that is healthy for the game of golf but certainly a good mental attitude and enrich it with the a physical part that is challenging and of course what we have probably not taken into consideration is the fact that even though it isnít a game where you bump heads and do all that, the physical aspect of the game is vitally important. I think if we watch the tour and we watch the professionals that play the game today, particularly a guy like Tiger Woods, you see how important it is to be physical and of course the reward for physical fitness in the game is just outstanding. Itís a vital thing.
MA: There is much talk about new equipment and the advancement of technology. Do you think that to some extent is overplayed and that part of it is that fact that golfers at the top tier of the top tours are physically better able to attack the game than they were in years past?
AP: Well, Iím not sure that applies to all golfers but certainly the more physical you are the better opportunity you have to attack the game and to perform in the highest echelon of the game
MA: Youíve talked about the last 30 years in your tournament, The Arnold Palmer Invitational. How have you found the advancement in better physical condition of the golfers and also technology in equipment? How has that changed the way you have to defend your golf course?
AP: Well, I think the fact the players today are very physical and the fact that the golf courses are now being extended to well over 7,000 yards and that being physical is a very important part of playing the game today. I think the guys are more conscious of the fact that being in good physical condition under the conditions that they play in today will make them better players. a
MA: Mr. Palmer your tour accomplishments are really so impressive. Years from now, how do you hope that history will remember Arnold Palmer?
AP: Well, I hope that they remember and feel that I have given back to the game all of the rewards that I have received from it and that would be very important to me.
MA: In 1960, you put together one of the greatest seasons of all time. You won eight times and you captured both the Masters and the US Open. Can you reflect for us on that tremendous season?
AP: I just had a good thing going and that was one of my great years, something that I thoroughly enjoyed and of course was able to win the Open and the Masters and felt very fortunate to be able to do that but one of the things that I always felt about playing the game and playing it professionally was that winning major championships is certainly a prime thing and we put a very high level of intelligence and esteem by winning major championships. But I always felt that any championship you win on the tour with the kind of competition that youíre having is vitally important and certainly I donít consider its lesser task for winning a championship whether it be at Bay Hill or Jack Nicklausí Memorial Tournament in Ohio or whatever. I feel that those tournaments take some pretty heavy playing and some talent to win also.
MA: Youíve talked about the relationship that you had with Ben Hogan and it stuck in my mind that one time I heard you say that Mr. Hogan never called you by your first name. Could you comment for us on the complexities of the relationship that you had with Ben Hogan?
AP: Well, it was more of a stand off relationship. It wasnít what I would call an enormous relationship, although I certainly had a great deal of respect for Ben Hogan and what he accomplished in the game. I think that it would be safe to say that from a distance we were friends but we were never very close and of course one of the things that you just mentioned had something to do with that and the fact that it was always ďHi fellaĒ rather than by call me by my name.
MA: Why do you think that was? Is there a possibility that you were the next star that his career was starting to wind down and yours was really starting to crank up? Could that have any thing to do with this relationship?
AP: I donít think so. I really donít think that Hogan in his own right worried about what Arnold Palmer was doing and that would be another way of looking at that relationship.
MA: Itís interesting. Now the relationship you had with another man, Jack Nicklaus, has been well chronicled of the years and a lot of talk has gone into the rivalry that you guys had back and forth through the 1960ís right up to your last tour event in 1973, I believe the Bob Hope?
AP: Well, thatís right but Jack and I, and I was considerably older than Jack, I had a great deal of respect for him as a young man and his game and did many things to try to help him when ever I could and I think that was a mutual feeling.
MA: And it seems as though as the years have gone on that you friendship has become one of guys that have known each other for more than 40 years. It seems as though you have a relationship now that you guys can get together and sit back and smile and reminisce about the years that you spent together.
AP: Well, that is very true and I consider Jack one of my closest friends and I hope itís vice-versa but at any rate it has been a great life for both of us.
MA: You had such tremendous success at the Masters at Augusta National winning the event four times. Why do you think you had such success there?
AP: I think loved it so much and my feeling about Augusta and first of all Cliff Roberts and Bobby Jones and what they did to make that tournament what we recognize today as one of the greatest golf tournaments in the world was vitally important to me. It was such a direct influence on my life that I could never say enough about Augusta and what has happened there over the years.
MA: I know you are heavily involved in designing golf courses around the world now, are you enjoying that process as much as ever?
AP: Yes, but I have limited my traveling so I donít travel quite as much as I did but Iím still designing golf courses and I enjoy that and feel like that can continue on for what ever I have left in my life.
MA: One looks at a course say by Donald Ross there are certain designs characteristics that jump out at you that say thatís a Donald Ross golf course. Do you have those same design characteristics in an Arnold Palmer design golf course and if you do what would they be?
AP: Well, first of all when I design a golf course if some one recognizes it immediately by the characteristic of the golf course that something that I have done before Iím not real happy about it. Iíd like to think that each golf course that I have something to do with in design is different than the ones that I have already done. Now that becomes a bit of a challenge from time to time also, but at the same time my goal is not to be trade marked as doing a lot of similar things.
MA: What are your goals going forward? What are the next mountains to scale for Mr. Arnold Palmer?
AP: Well of course to be philanthropic and to help people around the world who have made great contributions to the game and to continue to be thoughtful to the people who are interested in playing golf and making contributions to the game but certainly to help the world continue to progress as it has in the years that Iíve known it.
MA: Mr. Palmer you are certainly a treasure to the game. We very much thank you for taking the time
AP: Thank you very much, nice being with you.