Monday 5 December 2016

Farewell to the founder of game's modern era

Published 27/09/2016 | 02:30

Arnold Palmer walking across the Hogan Bridge on the 12th fairway for the final time in Masters competition in 2004 (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)
Arnold Palmer walking across the Hogan Bridge on the 12th fairway for the final time in Masters competition in 2004 (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

Arnies's Army was formally decommissioned on Sunday night as their Commander-in-Chief, Arnold Palmer, passed on to his eternal reward.

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Aged 87, Palmer, whose contribution to golf will forever be remembered as long as the game is played, died from heart complications, according to reports.

His mortal heart may have given up, but Arnie is assured of a permanent place in the heart of many generations of golfers - professionals, amateurs, and hackers - touched by his legacy.

This legacy helped popularise the game at the dawn of the TV era, and made it possible for global stars such as Rory McIlroy to win $11.5m dollars on Sunday, the day Arnie died, for victory in the FedEx Cup play-off series.

Nobody grudged McIlroy his moment of glory or his massive pay cheque.

The world he and his peers inhabit at the elite level of professional golf is the direct result of an incremental and upwardly mobile trend that started at the dawn of the '60s.

Palmer was pivotal in this growth, but he did not do it all on his own.

Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, the other members of the game's first and most enduring 'Big Three' came along at the right time in the late '50s and early '60s to challenge 'The King' and create a new era in golf.

It is unthinkable to consider where the game would be now without them, and especially without Arnie and his army of fans who helped make televised live golf worthy of prime time on the schedules.

Charm and class defined Palmer in his dealings with people from all walks of life.

As the tributes and outpourings of affection filled the airwaves and social media sites on both sides of the Atlantic, I recalled my one and only face-to-face meeting with Arnie.

The occasion was a site visit by Palmer to view progress on the second course at The K Club in Straffan 14 years ago. A small number of media representatives were invited to meet with him. After the visit, myself and RTE's Greg Allen got to sit down with The King. He answered all the questions fully and with warmth for about 30 minutes.

Was there one question he had not been asked a million times before in the previous 45 years? I would love to think there was, but come on, not a chance.

Carefully

And yet, Arnie considered every question carefully as it hearing it for the first time.

We, of course, could have kept going for an hour, but in the most graceful manner, Arnie wrapped it up.

"You know, guys, this has been a wonderful interview. Thank you for your time, I guess it's time for me to go."

Now, he could have said after ten minutes 'oh my God, enough already, it's time for me to fly' and we still would have been grateful. But Arnie did dignity, and did it so well.

No doubt dignity will be the keyword as the rival European and USA Ryder Cup teams express their respect for Palmer, a former player and captain in the competition.

His passing at the start of this week of all weeks adds to the intrigue surrounding the Hazeltine experience.

Davis Love III's announcement of Ryan Moore's selection as his 12th man for the match was made public at half-time in the Dallas Cowboys v Chicago Bears NFL match on Sunday night, but Palmer's death overshadowed it to a big extent.

Given Moore's stoic and stubborn display to run McIlroy right to the last putt in the Tour Championship, Love would have looked foolish indeed if he had omitted the runner-up at East Lake.

Time will tell whether the late, late call-up has any adverse effect on Moore's performance this week but he certainly never looked fazed by the head-to-head extra-time contest with McIlroy.

Love's team is complete but if the anticipated fervour of their support is the "13th man" for the USA this week, then surely Arnold Palmer is their 14th man.

The home side will not lack for motivation, but if spirits flag over the three days of the match, a 'let's do it for The King' call might just be the difference between slotting a crucial putt or two and a narrow miss.

We all know how slim the margins are between defeat and victory in the white heat of a Ryder Cup battle.

Arnold Palmer's passing just made Europe's job of retaining the Cup a lot more difficult - and the ferocious competitor he was in his prime would just love that.

Irish Independent

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