This past Sunday, September 25, a great golfer and a great American passed away. Arnold Palmer was 87. The BLOG post below is a reprint of a golf ezine story I wrote several years ago… I offer it now as a tribute to “Arnie”.
NINE HOLES REMEMBERED FROM LONG AGO
As I get older my recollection of the astounding events of a long ago winter day seem to get more and more vague. Each year, as the end of the golf season approaches, I wonder if what I remember actually happened. Given that it has been more than fifty years, I’ve decided that I’d better put it in writing.
The events, you see, took place December 24, 1958 – I was twelve years old.
The story actually begins on a Sunday afternoon, April 6th to be exact, of that same year. My Father (an avid golfer) and I were watching the final day’s play of The Masters Golf Tournament on our new RCA-Victor television set. Arnold Palmer, the most exciting golfer I’d ever seen, held the three round tournament lead… but he was struggling through the first twelve holes of the final day.
I anguished with his every shot, and wanted so much for him to pull out his first win in a major championship. On the thirteenth hole, the famous Augusta National dogleg left par five, he made his move. Arnie belted a long drive; he then hit a spectacular second shot to 18 feet, made the putt for an Eagle three and went on to win his first of four Masters. It was great!
I immediately fell in love with the game of golf; I wanted to be just like “Big Arnie”.
I practiced and played throughout the spring, summer and early fall of that year. And, as the traditionally cold New England winter began an early approach, I continued to find ways to work on my game. I read instruction books, golf magazines and, as winter weather set in, set up a backyard net which allowed me to hit golf balls off the frozen ground.
If the winter weather were to break, even a little, I had vowed to beg my parents to take me to the golf course for one last round.
Cold and snow in late November and early December of 1958 made it impossible for me to get back out to the course. As the calendar moved past the middle of the year’s last month however, the temperature began to moderate and large patches of bare ground were becoming exposed. My holiday vacation was about to begin, and as I walked home from school on the afternoon of December 23rd I hoped that I might have a chance to play that one last round.
That night I set my alarm to awaken me early the next morning.
It was well before seven when I tuned that big old RCA-Victor television set to WBZ channel four to watch Don Kent’s weather report. As soon as I heard his forecast I knew that this had to be the day.
Overcast with temperatures in the low forties; snow developing by afternoon; becoming heavy with accumulations of ten to twelve inches.
During breakfast I asked my parents if one of them would take me to the golf course… I was overjoyed when they said OK. At about 11 o’clock my Mother dropped me off with instructions to be waiting for my Father at 1PM sharp. She didn’t want me out, or him driving, in the impending snowstorm.
I quickly agreed, grabbed my clubs and headed for the first tee. I only had time for nine holes but, although somewhat eerie, it was exhilarating.
Not one car in the parking lot, the clubhouse and pro shop were closed, and the green keeper had replaced the standard pins with short three foot flags. Nonetheless, I was out playing golf, and I could not have been happier.
I finished the first hole and, as I walked to the second tee, was shocked to see what appeared to be golfers approaching #4 green. Upon closer inspection I could see that it was actually a single player with a caddie.
But… How could this possibly be? There were no cars in the parking lot and everything was closed. I decided to pick up my pace and join up with that single.
From a distance I could see that the golfer playing ahead of me swung with an abandoned fury, but each of his shots flew with what looked like laser precision. He charged down the fairway with a furious gait, and he had a familiar hitch of his pants as he readied to hit each shot. If I hadn’t known better I’d have sworn it was “Big Arnie”!
When I got to the sixth, and hadn’t closed any of the gap between us. I decided to give up the chase.
I slowed down my pace and refocused on my swing. I soon lost sight, and then completely forgot about the single player and his caddie just two holes ahead. My play was smooth and I was really enjoying my last game of the year. Before I knew it I was putting out on number 8.
As I headed to the ninth the predicted snow started to fall. I walked quickly with my eyes to the ground and, when I finally looked up, was startled to see the single with his caddie still standing on the tee box.
The player appeared larger than life!
He was wearing a black cardigan sweater over a white polo shirt, the collar of his shirt turned up. He had on a pair of dark green slacks with a western style pocket like I’d never seen, and his shoes were black flapped with an incredible shine.
I stood at the base of the tee and stared as he waggled his driver – the new Wilson 300 with that Newman wrap grip that only the best players could handle. He didn’t look up, but I clearly heard his greeting: “son – would you like to join me?”
I don’t recall if I answered. I was more nervous than I’d ever been in my life, but I quickly responded by grabbing my driver and teeing up a ball. My hands were shaking as I prepared to hit that drive; it took everything I had to make a slow swing, and keep my eye on the ball. At the moment of contact I felt immediate relief. I knew I’d hit a good shot before even looking up.
I stood proudly and watched my wonderful drive, and then I shook at the knees when I heard a familiar voice say: “nice shot son”.
I don’t know why, but I’d made the presumption that he’d already hit his drive. I was surprised when he teed up a ball.
A hitch of the pants as he prepared to hit – then… back and through with a swash buckling blur; the crack of the ball off that Wilson 300 driver was like a cannon shot.
The ball took off on a flight like nothing I’d seen before – low at the start then rising up into the newly falling snow. That tee shot just kept going and going down the center of the fairway. But, as soon as he hit it he and his caddie charged forward.