ONE of my great regrets in this game is that I never got to watch The King in his prime. But meeting Arnold Palmer the gentleman, at Augusta National no less, was enough to convince me the sport will forever be indebted to “the people’s champion”.
Even well into his 80s Arnie was – in every sense of the word – the total package. He had the swing, swagger, emotion, adventure and, most importantly, the affability and charisma to draw crowds.
As a player he stood out like a beacon in an era dominated by the sport’s greatest ever exponent, Jack Nicklaus. How many could do that? While he didn’t win 18 Majors like his old mate Jack, Arnie had something extra that made him the most beloved and impactful figure in the history of golf. According to those that knew him, that something came from within.
“He embodied and lived golf,” says Golf Digest’s Jaime Diaz, a long-time Arnie follower. “Nobody projected a love for the game better than Arnold. Nobody treated the fans better than he did. He could be articulate and wise but his aura spoke loudest … a John Wayne-like figure that wherever he walked, the game followed.”
Legendary golf writer Dan Jenkins, who has covered 66 Masters Tournaments, once said, “I don’t suppose anybody’s ever enjoyed being who they are more than Arnold enjoyed being Arnold Palmer.”
Arnie said as much back in 2000: “If they did, they had a hell of a time,” he told Golf Digest.
The game certainly loved Arnie back, but what made him so universally adored by generations past and present?
“The answer is simple,” his assistant of 50 years, Donald Giffin says, “He liked people, and they knew it.”
Aussie star and renowned thinker, Geoff Ogilvy was another extended member of Arnie’s Army. “He had such a magnetic personality, you could just tell that he had that something,” recalls Ogilvy. “He lit up the room when he walked in. The women wanted to be close to him, and men wanted to be him. He could have been in a crowded room and everyone in that room left thinking Arnold connected with them at least once.”
Arnie was a showman and pioneer for the sport, particularly when television first arrived. He loved an exhibition, and helped spruik golf’s competitive appeal through Big Three Golf – a 1960s TV series in which he battled Nicklaus and Gary Player at various courses. As such, we know Palmer would’ve loved the PGA Tour of Australasia’s new initiative – the World Super 6 Perth tournament – announced just days before his death.
Co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour of Australasia and European Tour, the World Super 6 Perth will hit the fairways of Lake Karrinyup from February 16-19 and is a first for professional golf, combining 54 holes of traditional stroke play with a knockout match play format for the final round.
A regular cut will fall after 36 holes before the field is then sliced further to the top-24 players following 54 holes of regulation play. Those remaining players will then earn their places in the six-hole shootout.
Any matches tied after the six holes will be decided by playing the new Knockout Hole – a purpose-built 90-metre hole that will utilise the 18th green from a different tee.The knockout hole will be played once and if a winner is still not decided, the competitors will return to the new tee and take on a nail-biting decider, with the victor decided on a nearest-the-pin contest where only the first shot counts. That player will then progress to the next round of the match play or, in the case of the final match, win the tournament.
We’re pretty quick to criticise in the media and we should be just as quick to give credit where it’s due. This idea is exciting and will inject some curiosity back into the game.
In a time when TV ratings and gate takings are an ongoing challenge, thinking outside the square is key. Creators of the World Super 6 Perth deserve a pat on the back because, as The King once famously said, “You must play boldly to win.” That they certainly will.
Rest In Peace, Mr Palmer.
– Brad Clifton Editor-in-Chief @bradcliffo