A MAN OF THE PEO­PLE

Me­mories of Palmer ev­ery­where at Bay Hill

New Straits Times - - Sport -

OR­LANDO be be­hind the 16th tree start­ing yes­ter­day.

Play­ers have put the um­brella on their caps, their shirts or their golf bags for the week. They are tak­ing turns go­ing to his of­fice, sit­ting be­hind his desk and sign­ing mem­o­ra­bilia for fans, be­cause that’s what Palmer would have done.

Golf Chan­nel, the net­work Palmer co-founded with Joe Gibbs in 1995, is de­vot­ing 50 hours of pro­gram­ming from Bay Hill this week, in­clud­ing live cov­er­age of the open­ing cer­e­mony yes­ter­day.

But it would be a mis­take in this week of re­mem­ber­ing the King to think of this as the end.

Since his death in Septem­ber, Arnold Palmer En­ter­prises al­ready has re­newed cor­po­rate deals with MasterCard, equip­ment maker Tex­tron and Ari­zona Bev­er­ages, which in­cludes the fa­mous Arnold Palmer (half iced tea, half lemon­ade).

The greater con­cern is the tour­na­ment, and whether it will lose any pres­tige now that Palmer is gone.

There have been com­par­isons with the AT&T By­ron Nel­son out­side Dal­las, and how it strug­gled to get a strong field af­ter Nel­son died in 2006, in part be­cause the golf course wasn’t ex­actly on any­one’s bucket list to play. There’s a big dif­fer­ence, though. Nel­son had his name on a tour­na­ment that moved from Pre­ston Trail to the TPC Four Sea­sons Las Coli­nas.

Bay Hill had Palmer’s prints from the very start in 1979, long be­fore his name be­came the ti­tle in 2007. He owned the place.

He nur­tured it. He was ev­ery­where at the club, play­ing the shootouts with his friends, sip­ping on his Ke­tel One in the club­house, sign­ing au­to­graphs up­stairs in his of­fice, and yes, walk­ing his dog down Ma­rina Drive.

Ask any of the play­ers who have lived in Or­lando — Tiger Woods, Hen­rik Sten­son, Graeme McDow­ell — and they will be quick to say their chil­dren were born in the Win­nie Palmer Hospi­tal for Women & Ba­bies.

Nel­son re­tired from a full sched­ule in the prime of his ca­reer, want­ing to se­cure enough money to buy his ranch.

He was a stately fig­ure in the game, and he re­mained deeply in­volved in his tour­na­ment. Palmer prob­a­bly stayed in the game too long, and no one cared.

He was 75 when he played the Mas­ters for the last time.

He played Bay Hill for the fi­nal time a year ear­lier, and capped it off by hit­ting driver off the deck and onto the green at the 18th.

What he left be­hind are sto­ries, too many too tell, be­cause just about every­body has one. And ev­ery­one is smil­ing when they fin­ish telling them.

To com­plain about which play­ers are not at the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional is a waste of time. Sure, Palmer paid at­ten­tion to who played Bay Hill and who didn’t. He once re­ferred to Rory McIl­roy not play­ing in 2013 by say­ing: “What his name? The No 1 guy?”

But it was al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by a wink and a smile.

Palmer, above all, was a golfer. He un­der­stood sched­ules. He un­der­stood be­ing ready for the Mas­ters. Be­sides, the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional field is the strong­est it has been for the last decade ex­cept for 2013, the year Woods won for the eighth and fi­nal time at Bay Hill.

It has been nearly six months since Palmer died. Bay Hill will be an­other re­minder that his void will be hard to fill, if it’s even pos­si­ble. But the King left be­hind too many great mo­ments, too many great sto­ries, too many friends.

And that might be the best way for play­ers to hon­our his legacy, to leave be­hind more than what they take. AP

AFP PIC

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