Following decades of industrious cutting by Doc Giffin, the clippings of the King are brought to cyber-life on ArnoldPalmer.com with a little help from Chris Rodell
tournament play in 2006
prompted one prominent
to conclude it was “a
momentous day for the Latrobe golfer.”
Wrong. In the grand scheme of things, it
was fairly insignificant.
After months of painstaking
research, I’ve learned what a truly
momentous day means in the life of
Palmer. It’s vastly different from, say,
you and me. Our momentous days
usually involve scattered anniversaries,
birthdays or, perhaps, a date of
It’s different with Palmer. For him,
something worthy of festive recollection
happens every single day of the year.
Take June 23. That was when
President George W. Bush bestowed
upon him the Presidential Medal of
Honor (2004), coincidentally, 11 years
to the day after Palmer was still basking
over being honored by President Bill
Clinton with the first National Sports
Award (1993). Those prestigious honors
kind of make winning the 1985 Senior
T.P.C. Championship (also June 23) and
earning $36,554 seem like small potatoes.
Or July 29, a day when Palmer
won three tournaments in three decades
in three different states for an escalating
first place prize of $3,800 (1956), $11,000
(1963), and $20,050 (1971).
I know all this because Doc Giffin, Palmer’s affable assistant, has spent the past 40 years methodically scissoring every single newspaper and magazine article that mentioned the boss’s name and putting the clippings in stacked boxes in the basement of their latrobe office. I've been asked by ArnoldPalmer.com to go through the boxes and assemble a day–by–day timeline of Palmer’s life. six boxes into the project and I'm fatigued.
Not for me. For Palmer. His is an exhausting life.
As everyone knows, he is one of the greatest golfers who’s ever lived. But a charming alchemy of small–town grit, old–fashioned good manners and heaven–sent good fortune have made his a life unique in american history.many presidents may admire Sandy Koufax or Cal Ripken, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever invite them to the White House to play catch.
But it’s different with golfers. and it’s different still with Palmer. That helps explain why former President Dwight D. eisenhower showed up at Palmer’s house to surprise him on his 37th birthday, september 10, 1966, and why former President Gerald r. Ford’s first act as a private citizen on January 20, 1977, was to fly to Pebble Beach to golf with Palmer. and why Bill Clinton told biographers in 2000 that one of the greatest perks of being President of the United states is the “opportunity to play golf with arnold Palmer.”
It was a Palmer team, him and wife Kit, that on may 7, 2007, made one of the most demanding cuts of the 21stcentury. They were among the 130 a–list guests invited to fete Queen elizabeth ii at the White House, a truly regal white tie affair considered by society writers at the Washington Post to be the most spectacular and lavish dinner hosted by official Washington in more than a decade. Palmer’s name on the guest list added a dash of grit and grace to a roll that included Vice President Dick Cheney, nancy reagan, Peyton Manning and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
I was tickled to think about how future Palmer biographers would feast on the tasty leftovers from the following day when Palmer was up early giving putting lessons to a trio of renowned rules sticklers who might be hiding snazzy golf shirts beneath their black robes. The Palmers had accepted the invitation of U.S. supreme Court Justice anthony Kennedy, a friend of Kit Palmer’s, to visit the highest court in the land. spying Palmer there, Chief Justice John roberts put down his gavel and picked up his putter to practice there and then.
That was all very historic, but my favorite coda to the fairytale is that the Palmers left Washington and immediately flew to the Bay Hill Club in Orlando so Palmer could do one of the few things he enjoys more than dining with royalty.
He golfed with friends.
Scrutiny of some of his more esoteric golf records yielded thrilling results, not yet divined by any of the multitude of sports writers or the most ardent Palmer fans.
Clips reveal a fascinating and oddly mystical symmetry to the history of Palmer's golfing aces, facts of which Palmer himself was unaware.
He had three aces in 1965 (March 3, May 25 and September 6). His longest ace drought was 13 years between number nine on an unknown September 1966 date during a Wilmington, Delaware, exhibition with Jack Nicklaus, to his tenth on September 27, 1979, on the number two hole at Bay Hill's Charger course.
His shortest? A mere 24 hours.
That was September 2-3, 1986, during the Chrysler Cup Pro-Am at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Maryland. He aced the 182 yard 3rd hole on consecutive days, a feat that was never done before or since in professional golf. Tom Boswell's story in the September 4 editions of The Washington Post celebrated the sensation thusly: "On Tuesday, Arnold Palmer made a hole in one. Yesterday, he returned and made a hole in a million." Boswell calculated Palmer's played more than 40,000 par 3s and had made "only" 13 aces, and figures the odds of him acing the same hole twice in a row exceed 10 million-to-1.
What might be most remarkable is that 66 percent of the aces - 8 of 14 - whose dates are verifiable occurred in September, with five of those being struck between September 3 through 7.
In fact, nearly every day in September he's done something worth celebrating. Besides his September 10, 1929, birthday, he also carded his best ever, a 60, at Latrobe on September 13, 1969.
So even a casual student of probability and statistics might want to unfold a lawn chair on September 6 near the second green at Latrobe Country Club. He's celebrated aces on September 6 twice before, once in 1965 in Tennessee and again in 1997 when he aced Latrobe's second for the fourth time.
Of course, finding golf anecdotes has been easy, but unearthing myriad non-golf items that were positively Palmer has been the best part. For instance, on November 23, 1987, Palmer revealed that golf buddy Bob Lurie offered him a 1-year contract to manage his listless San Francisco Giants, Palmer declined. "Not enough money," he said. Clips from March 3, 2004, told how Palmer and Yankee manager Joe Torre were on a Hawaiian whale-watching cruise when Palmer shamed Torre, then 64, out of thoughts of retiring. "He said, 'Hey, I'm 74 and I'm never going to retire," as Torre recalled Palmer's scold (tournament golf, not withstanding, both men remain busier than ever).
As an admiring student of legendary sportswriters, I reveled in clips from titans like Jim Murray giving their unique take on Palmer. There was this nugget from the August 26, 1969, editions of the Los Angeles Times: "Arnold Palmer plays golf as if he were fighting a lion. It's him or it. He's never hit a timid shot in his life. They haven't made a golf hole that could scare Palmer. He could par 42nd Street if he ever made up his mind to do it. Arnold leaving golf is like a 2000-year-old Redwood toppling. It is Napoleon going to Elba, Caesar falling, declining. After him, it's the Dark Ages."
Murray didn't know it then, but thanks to Palmer's crucial involvement in the Senior Tour, colleagues would still be saluting Palmer's competitive flair nearly 20 years later. This was from March 29, 1987, when Scott Ostler sought ito identify the biggest hotdog in sports. Was it Reggie Jackson? John McEnroe? Hulk Hogan? Nope, he said. It was Arnold Palmer.
"He's the biggest, hands down," Ostler wrote. "To qualify for hotdog status, one must: 1. Have an exciting game, a flair, a unique style; 2. Play to the crowd; 3. Enjoy the spotlight. Now where does it say a hotdog has to be a jerk, although many are. Arnie is not a pants dropper. He is a pants hitcher. He still uses that simple tug of the belt to convey the message, 'Excuse me, gentlemen, but this is Arnold Palmer's golf tournament."
Thanks to Doc's meticulous clippings, the trivia folder in my mind is now bursting with Palmer dates and facts:
- The James Bond movie "Goldfinger" was released in America on December 22, 1964. How do I remember that? Because it includes an incredulous caddie who speculates the arch-villain is cheating by sarcastically telling Sean Connery as Bond, "If that's his original ball, I'm Arnold Palmer."
- Palmer smoked his last cigarette on December 23, 1973. The man whose first major endorsement was for L&M Cigarettes said there were 16 people at the party and they were all smoking. "We decided that if any of us ever smoked another cigarette, we had to give $100 to the 15 other people. Not just for that night, but for the rest of our lives. Right there it stopped me."
- A faded yellow clip has "1960 on it, but no other date from the interview when famed designer Oleg Cassini weighed in on the Palmer phenomenon: "He's totally inelegant. If his pants fit, he wouldn't have to hitch them up all the time." Trade publications from 1966, however, show that six years later, Arnold Palmer sportswear began outselling Cassini items at Macy's in New York.
There were reams of clips generated from the aviation world record Palmer set May 19, 1976, when he circumnavigated the globe in a Lear 36 in less than 58 hours and many others are generated to the day due to his enduring love of aviation. In fact, set aside Palmer's playing record, and just focus on Arnold Palmer the man, on his endorsements, his celebrity friendships (Kirk Douglas said in 1970 that no one - not Sinatra, John, Wayne or Ronald Reagan - has more charisma than Palmer), the more than 250 courses he's designed in 20 countries, the hospitals he's opened, the lives he's touched and, even without Palmer the golfer, it's a still staggering legacy.
And that's just from six boxes of clips. There are still four more to go and every single day, Doc's still busy with his scissors.
To view the Arnold Palmer timeline click here.