November 06, 2008
Originally published April 12, 2002
If I were a Viking in the mead hall right now, I would wobble to my feet, pound the table for attention and wave my cup in the air. Once I had the attention of my raucous fellows, even if it meant drawing my sword and threatening violence, I would propose a toast to a mighty warrior and a man of legend who will fight no more on the field where he won his glory. This is a somber day and it should be remembered.
Arnold Palmer will play his last round in the Master's today.
Arnie is old enough to shoot his age in Senior's tournaments, he's bending more to gravity now, and he looks tired and whipped when he walks off the 18th green at Augusta National. Hell, he's had HIS prostate ripped out, too, and I KNOW that changes a lot of things about your physical wherewithall. He has not made the cut in the tournament since 1983, and I WAS THERE to see him shoot 68 in the opening round that year. (No, I didn't have the most coveted ticket in golf. I conned my way into manning the scoreboard on the 14th tee from 0800 until 1200, when I was relieved by a Boy Scout and allowed to roam the course the rest of the day.)
I WAS THERE again, in 1992, this time with a ticket, to watch him put his tee shot in the right greenside bunker on #16, whiff it twice, then blast out and hole the shot for a bogey four. He received a louder, longer and grander standing ovation than whoever won the tournament that year (I believe it was Fred Couples. I don't remember for sure, but I remember ARNIE'S SHOT)
Palmer had that effect on his fans, and he remains beloved by those of us old and gray enough to remember him in his prime. I have only a few sports heroes whom I truly worship, and Arnold Palmer is one. (The others are Johnny Unitas, Willie Mosconi and Hershel Walker, even if Hershel never panned out as a pro. I am a Georgia boy, after all.) I want them all to be as great forever as they were on their greatest day. Life will not grant them that privilege, but my memories will.
So, I propose a toast to one of the greatest golfers who ever stuck a tee in the ground: Arnold Palmer, may you have nothing but fairways and greens the rest of your life. If you stray from that path, may you always have a good lie in the rough. And when you really need the putt, may the ball find the bottom of the cup every time. Amen, and let's find the bottom of OUR CUPS now!
UPDATE: Arnie's last round at Augusta was rained out before he finished. He'll be back today to play six holes. V.J. Singh is leading the tournament at 9-under par. Arnie is 28-over.
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