Wednesday 23 August 2017

Spirit of Palmer certain to bestride Ryder Cup fairways

Arnold Palmer grins broadly after winning the Florida Citrus Invitational in 1971. Palmer came in with a 18 under for a 270, one stroke over Julius Boros Picture: Bettman Archive/Getty
Arnold Palmer grins broadly after winning the Florida Citrus Invitational in 1971. Palmer came in with a 18 under for a 270, one stroke over Julius Boros Picture: Bettman Archive/Getty

Paul Hayward

Arnold Palmer departed just as America's Ryder Cup team arrived. Death does not choose its moments, but its timing can extend a life, at least spiritually.

There will be echoes this week of the long emotional goodbye to Seve Ballesteros in European golf when the home nation honour the memory of 'The King' here in Minnesota.

"Our country has lost a great sportsman, a great American," said US captain Davis Love III after Palmer died in Pittsburgh in the early hours of yesterday morning, aged 87.

"As we approach the Ryder Cup this week, our team will keep Mr Palmer's family in our prayers and will draw from his strength and determination to inspire us."

Golf has always been in a league of its own for keeping its elder statesmen close to the story, which is why Palmer's passing will be felt more keenly by today's Ryder Cup team than that of a long-vanished legend in most other sports.

Like Jack Nicklaus, Palmer remained front of stage long after his tournament-winning powers deserted him.

If Palmer was the sport's first brand, Tiger Woods was its first global corporation, and the two were close, as we saw in television clips of Woods with his arm around Palmer. A vice-captain to Love this week, Woods wrote: "Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs.

"Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend. It's hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King."

Arnold Palmer and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)
Arnold Palmer and President Dwight D. Eisenhower (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

There is no denying the potential to affect the outcome of this week's match between the US and Europe, who drew so heavily on the Ballesteros factor, especially at Medinah in 2012. There, in 2012, the players' bags were adorned with silhouettes of Ballesteros' celebration of his 1984 Open Championship win at St Andrews.

Jose Maria Olazabal, captain and compatriot, said: "We felt this was one way that Seve could be with us every step of the way."

Ballesteros, who played in eight Ryder Cups, winning 20 of his 37 matches, and died from cancer in May 2011, also galvanised Europe's golfers at Celtic Manor in 2010 with a speakerphone call to the team room.

Too ill to attend after having a brain tumour removed, Ballesteros moved captain Colin Montgomerie to say: "We were just honoured to have him, have his presence in the room. It's always nice to not ever feel that Seve is forgotten by us or by European golf in any way."

Nicklaus said: "Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself."

With his sharp eye for stage management, the ghost of Arnold Palmer would not mind us saying his death has added emotional heft to a Ryder Cup that was already hotting up nicely, with an American 'Task Force' plotting to head off a fourth consecutive defeat and Lee Westwood poking Uncle Sam's ribs with teasing comments and tweets.

But just as Europe felt bound to Ballesteros, and his fierce commitment to Ryder Cup golf, so Love's team are framing Palmer as one of their sport's great leaders.

The Ryder Cup has a habit of drawing on themes far greater than a mere match between two golf tours separated by an ocean.

By carrying on, by drawing inspiration from memory, sport keeps lost souls alive, as it will this week. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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