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Arnie Weighs in on His Tournament & the PGA Tour
Arnold Palmer has received virtually every award ever given out in golf and all sports. Generally considered the man - along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player - responsible for popularizing and commercializing the game in the 1960s, the golfer known as "The King" is a long-time member of the sport's Hall of Fame and has received myriad lifetime achievement awards during his nonpareil career.
The former aviator, who for decades flew his own jet until retiring from the cockpit last year, is now 81 years old and, like all octogenarians, is gradually slowing down.
But Palmer's mind is still sharp and he has no problems speaking it. On Wednesday morning from the site of this week's PGA Tour stop, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the tournament host was particularly astute when asked about slow play among the pros and the affects it has on the game of golf at all levels.
"We have to do things to speed up play," Palmer said. "Not just on the Tour; we have to do things to speed up play all over the game. And of course, the more people that watch pros take their time and fiddle and fuss around about hitting a golf shot, the more we are going to see play slowed in the normal ranks on golf courses around the country, and that is something that is of major importance to the future of the game."
Here's what else Arnie had to say during his wide-ranging Q&A with reporters from his course, Bay Hill in Orlando.
MODERATOR: We would like to welcome everyone to the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. And what an honor and what a privilege to have Mr. Palmer with us. We'll just get you to give us some opening comments on what is looking like another terrific week, and we've got a terrific field on hand.
ARNOLD PALMER: Okay. Well, thank you very much, and nice to see all of you here. I think most of you know, last year we kind of opened up with the new, revamped golf course, and in the year going by, we just really worked on improving the conditions here. And the golf course, from our point of view right now, is about as good as it's ever been. The greens, the fairway, the sand traps, everything, has been as much the same as it was last year but it's all been reworked and is in very fine condition. We expect the greens will be firm. They will be rolling somewhere 12 or 13 when the tournament starts tomorrow. And conditions generally are very, very good. We've had good weather. Monday, we had probably our best day -- best Monday we've ever had in the history of the tournament, and of course, Tuesday was a good day as you saw, if you were around, and you saw all of the action going on and the people here. And today, we are looking for a great Pro-Am and have every thought that it will be a very good tournament from that aspect.
And the tournament itself, tomorrow, should be very good. The conditions, the weather, all of the things that we concern ourselves with are in order and they will get on with it as we anticipate. I guess that's about it. MasterCard is, of course, our sponsor again, and that's good. Hertz is also with us as an associate sponsor and we have many others that have been very good and very loyal to the tournament. We are looking forward to our best tournament ever this year.
MODERATOR: Before we open it up to question, talk a little about the charitable impact of this tournament.
ARNOLD PALMER: Okay, I'll talk about the hospital a little. Of course, as you know, the hospital is continuing to grow. And the hospital, the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, last year, we bore about 13,000 youngsters. That was a record. We are, in some areas, the hospital is No. 1 in the nation for care, and number of babies, No. 2. Some of the things that we have done in the past year, we have opened up a new kidney function in the hospital, which is right up to speed with all of the things that are necessary for children with kidney problems. We are also working on a children's cardiac center. And let's see, the congenital heart institute, and that is growing. Of course, we anticipate that that heart institute will continue to grow, and we would anticipate some time in the not-too-distant future that we will be able to do young people's heart transplants, and that's a little ways off. Again we are working in that direction. We are very pleased with that.
We have a new da Vinci robot and that's headed by Dr. Jessica Vaught, who is director of that, providing services for women's needs and all of the new technology and non-invasive surgery. Overall, we are extremely pleased and proud of our hospital and our Medical Center. As you know, those of you who have not had the experience to find out what we are doing, we have the cancer center, we have the emergency trauma center, and of course that coupled with the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, the hospital is making just amazing strides, and will continue to do that. As you all know, we are the charity for that hospital, and of course, our friends from around the country have been very helpful in helping us promote the hospital and continue to grow in the veins that I have just been talking about.
Q. Tiger and Phil have not won yet this year on the PGA Tour. Curious, when you were competing at the highest level, how important was it for you to have a victory under your belt before you went to Augusta?
ARNOLD PALMER: I'm not sure that I can give you the answer you're looking for. But any tournament that I played in before or after Augusta or any other major championship, was to me a very important event. If I was playing good and winning tournaments, I always felt pretty good going to Augusta. For a lot of years, I had won tournaments prior to Augusta. So that wasn't something that I worried about. I think that's just a confidence builder to win a golf tournament, and I think that would apply to any player in the field; to have won a tournament prior to that is always a confidence builder.
Q. Tiger is back in the field and he's won here a lot, but he's off form. What do you make of his game right now and his chances this week?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I've obviously been watching his game just like everyone else has. I feel like Tiger has a golf game that he can come to the surface any time. I think that's certainly a possibility here. He likes the golf course. He likes what we've done. So I would just not count him out at all. I think his swing changes, I don't know enough about what he's doing whether, you know, laying the club off and all that stuff, I'm not going to get into that because that's up to Tiger. But I think he's capable of winning any time.
Q. Mr. Palmer, back when you were in your playing prime, it seemed like the Tour had a lot more big characters, big personalities than it does now. I wonder if you can talk about why that may have been, and whether there are comparable characters, personalities on the Tour today?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course I think that the Tour has a great number of personalities. These young people are coming along, I think that's a headliner in itself. The Rickie Fowlers, the Sam Saunders (laughter) couldn't help that. But there are a lot of young guys that I know and have spoken to this week, and they are all very excited about being here and playing in this tournament. And they have got great personalities. If you have the time to talk to them and get to know them a little bit, I think you'll find that out. Certainly our field is a good field. And the potential here and in the future for these players, these young people coming along, is fantastic.
Q. I was wondering, it's the 25th anniversary of Nicklaus's win in '86 at the Masters. Do you remember, were you still on the property at Augusta when all of that was happening? Did you watch it? And if you were watching, what ran through your mind as your old nemesis was summoning the thunder one last time?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, what can you say? Jack's, that was a great victory for the sixth time, and I think that just is indicative of the way he's played and how his golf career has lasted through the years. Did it surprise me? I think -- what can you say? He won six times. That's pretty damn good. I should have won six times. (Laughter).
Q. Do you remember where you watched it or not?
ARNOLD PALMER: I did watch it, yes.
Q. Where were you?
ARNOLD PALMER: I was here.
Q. Along those lines of the younger players, if you were a fan out there walking your tournament this week, are there any players out there you would make it a point to try to go watch among these younger guys? And a second thing, when you were in your prime and you were pulling these galleries, did you play better in front of larger crowds? Did you pull some energy from those times when you had large galleries and they were all cheering for you?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course I always enjoyed the galleries. And yes, I felt like I always played a little better when the galleries were larger. The kids that are out here today, like my grandson and Rickie, they are exciting, and they are fun to watch. And we will see a lot of that this week, and of course some of the older guys that are in the field are going to be interesting to watch. And I think that that will be something that only time will tell how they are going to play this week. I think the weather is going to be pretty warm, and the guys that are -- and most of them are in good shape, but that's going to be a factor here, too.
The golf course is going to be firm, and the rough is going to be tough. And of course, you hear this all the time, but fairways and greens, may be more important this week than it's been in a long time on the Tour. The fairways are I would say modest or generous in their width. The greens are going to be firm and they are going to be fast. So you are going to see the ball hit some greens and run over, and of course when we redid the golf course, we put a lot of run-offs around the greens, and you will see those run-offs in use this week I think with the pin positions and all of the things that are going to happen. So I'm looking forward to it. I will be watching the young guys that I mentioned and I'll be watching some of the local guys that we thought we would like to see them have a shot at it and see how they can do, like Robert Damron is one that's been here for a long time, he's a good player. He has not had a lot of success lately, but he might have a good tournament this week and it will be interesting to see how he does.
Q. You mentioned the younger players and talked a little bit about Augusta; for years, going to Augusta, it was always Tiger, and everybody else. That was the course where he excelled and had that sort of intimidation factor. Do you get a sense now that there's a window of opportunity going into that tournament for some of these younger players that seem to have more confidence than a lot of younger players coming up, combine their confidence with Tiger's struggles right now; is there a window of opportunity going to Augusta?
ARNOLD PALMER: Of course, I mentioned the young players, because I think they are coming on and they are going to be factors in the future and they will have some effect on how Tiger plays. You can say, oh, those kids won't bother him. Well, that's not quite right. I think that he'll be aware of those young guys as competitors, and that's going to be a factor. And I think that any one of them could break out and come on and win the Masters or win this golf tournament. And you can't forget Phil Mickelson who is here, and he's one of the older guys, but here is a guy that won the Masters last year and he's going to be very much a part of this tournament as he will be in two weeks at Augusta.
Q. Sticking with Tiger, the last year or so we have gotten accustomed to watching him miss putts that he used to never miss. I assume you can empathize a little bit. Can you recall a time in your career when you got to the stage where you could not will those putts into the hole and you know what he's going through now, where the putts used to always fall when you had to have them, they are not necessarily always falling all the time anymore?
ARNOLD PALMER: Yes, I can. (Laughing). And I can tell you that it becomes more and more difficult as you get older. And when reminiscing and talking about tournaments that you win and then tournaments that you think you should have won, that you didn't, and why you didn't; well, of course, the putts you're talking about, the ones that you think should have gone in or the ball that hits on the edge of the fairway and bounces in the rough instead of bouncing out in the middle of the fairway. Those are the things that start happening, and you, as a player, begin to wonder. And I can't say that I know anybody that doesn't have that happen to him at some time if they play good and they have had a good career, that all of a sudden, once in awhile, the bounces go the wrong way or the putts rim around the cup rather than going in the cup. Yes, it will happen to him and it will happen to anybody else that plays golf as much as let's say we all have on our way through our career.
Q. Did you make any significant swing changes during your career and are you surprised that Tiger is doing so again?
ARNOLD PALMER: You know, I never -- I really did not make any swing changes in my career. I started with a pattern when I started playing the Tour, and I stuck with it until today, and I will go with it today in the Pro-Am and hope to hell I can hit it in the fairway and hope I can hit it longer than what I've been hitting it. And I hit it so far these days that I hear it land. (Laughter).
Q. What about Tiger? Are you surprised given all of his success that he's done this again?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I'm a little surprised that he's changing his game or doing what he's doing to his game, which I'm really not sure what it is. I thought I saw something, a bit of a lay-off of the way he lays the club back and that looked a little different. But again, I'm not going to claim to be an expert about his swing. I thought that the first few times that I played with him on the Tour, way back when he first came out, and I thought he had a great swing and I thought he had a great posture in hitting the golf ball par. And obviously it was, because he didn't win all of those tournaments without having those things. So changing? Well, that's up to Tiger. I can't -- I don't want to inject anything into something I don't really know enough about to talk about.
Q. We have talked a lot about young players and so forth today. Just wanted to get your thoughts on the opportunity you've had to host an event near your hometown and what that means and seeing the young guys on the Nationwide Tour there.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, are you talking about the Pittsburgh Nationwide? For an example, I have a note here, and let's see, the Mylan Classic. I'm the chairman, and this year I will be the chairman for the second time in a row. That will be at Southpointe Golf Club in Pittsburgh. It's a good tournament and I hope to be able to be there for part of the tournament, anyway. And the Nationwide Tour, as you've been reading, has changed some of the rules, and I think that's what we have all advocated and think that it's the right thing to do.
Q. Do you think that the top players today are better, quote, unquote, athletes than the top players were when you were playing regularly?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think there's certainly a lot more physicalness on the Tour today than there was overall when I started. I'd like to think that a lot of the guys were very physical, even when I played. But a lot of the guys just played golf. They were golf professionals and they didn't concentrate on physical fitness such as the guys that are playing today. So the answer is, yes, there are more physical specimens out here playing the Tour today than there's ever been before. And of course, we have made that all possible for them with the trailers and the physical fitness that accompanies the Tour, it's a natural thing for them to be more physical.
And I think it's a great thing. I think it's very good. The guys, you talk about Tiger's swing changes and the things that he's doing; one thing that he has always done is stay in good physical condition, and that's a plus and it's going to be a plus for him as long as he plays. And the same thing with these young guys; they all are aware of the physical fitness and the factor that that involves in swinging a golf club and hitting it the distance they are hitting it. I am amazed the way they hit the golf ball today and how far, whether it's my grandson or Rickie or some of the other young guys that are coming along.
Q. You referenced earlier some of the changes that are coming or being considered by the Tour now with regard to Qualifying School and the Nationwide Tour. I wonder if you can expand on that a little bit. Do you see that enhancing the competition that players will have when they get to the Tour, or what do you see as the benefits to that?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think I've advocated for some time the Nationwide Tour should be the stepping stone to the major tour, which is what is happening and that's what they have really just injected. They have taken the qualifying away from the major tour and they have put it in front of the Nationwide Tour. So you qualify now to play the Nationwide Tour, and of course, your performance on the Nationwide Tour will set the pace for you becoming a regular Tour player. And I think that's the way it should be. That's a natural. With the game growing as it is and the things that are happening in professional golf, the Nationwide Tour should be the stepping stone to the regular Tour. And it's the fairest, best way to do it. These guys all have the opportunity to play the Nationwide Tour. Well, that automatically gives them the opportunity to play the regular Tour.
Q. Slow play seems to be a topic that the players still chat about out on the range. If you were Commissioner, what would you do to deal with the slow play?
ARNOLD PALMER: Slow play? Well, I think, of course, I put up with it for 50 years (laughter) and I think it's something that is very hard to regulate, but I think they are doing a reasonable job in getting play speeded up. And I think that they should continue to do things that will speed up play; meaning, I just couldn't -- you can't make things happen if you don't regulate them, and that's what they are trying to do. If I were the Commissioner, which I'm not, and do not want to be, but I would say that what they are doing is pretty good in helping speed up play. And I think maybe even going a little more in that direction, it would be good. But definitely, we have to in the game of golf, we have to do things to speed up play. Not just on the Tour; we have to do things to speed up play all over the game. And of course, the more people that watch pros take their time and fiddle and fuss around about hitting a golf shot, the more we are going to see play slowed in the normal ranks on golf courses around the country, and that is something that is of major importance to the future of the game.
Q. What do you think of -- you've mentioned swing changes. What do you think of the predominance and growing influence of the swing coaches who in some cases are even more well known than a lot of the players at this point.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, I'm not familiar with the -- I know the swing coaches, some of them, and I certainly don't want to step on their toes, because if that's what the people want, a swing is coach, that's fine. My father was my swing coach, and I saw him at least once a year for about 70 years, and he never changed anything. He watched me for five minutes and went home. (Laughter) It's like he put my grip on the club and my hands on the golf club when I was six years old and he said, "Boy, don't you ever change it." Well, I haven't changed it. And I'm 82 years old, or 81 years old.
Q. When I asked you last year about Tiger missing this tournament as the defending champion, you mentioned that he had called you personally and then you offered some advice for him going forward; that you felt like he should open up and kind of get going with his life. Have you had conversations with him since last year when he missed this tournament, and how do you feel he has rebuilt his life since we have talked about rebuilding his golf swing?
ARNOLD PALMER: I'm really not going to comment on his life. That's his business. It's not mine. I think he's trying to recover and do what he thinks is best and I wish him good luck.
Q. And as far as any conversations you may have had with him, you mentioned last year that he called you personally when he wasn't going to make this tournament, having him back here this year, what does it mean for this tournament, after missing last year as the defending champion?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, we missed him last year and we really wanted him to play, and it's great to have him back this year. And certainly, it's an addition to this tournament. You know, he's a six-time winner here. That's important. It's important to us. It's important to golf. It's important to Tiger that he plays here and he plays well.
Q. Going back to the question of athletes as golfers, I'm just curious, back in your day, who were the best athletes on Tour when you were playing?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, there were a lot of guys that were pretty good athletes that performed in other sports that played the Tour. I'm just not sure I can pick them out now. As time went on when I started, I was playing with people like Nelson and Hogan and Snead and that group, and they were all, I think, in reasonably good shape. But they didn't practice day-in and day-out being physical. They played golf and they practiced, they walked, and I say now, they were all in pretty good shape.
But as time went on, and as we progress through the Tour and the Tour became more tense from left say the early 50s to what we see now, 60 years later, 70 years later, we are seeing guys that have progressed as it went along. The momentum of getting in shape increased rather rapidly from the early 50s through the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, and you know, I would use myself as an example. I have kept myself in pretty good shape. And I think that most of the guys did. Not as intense as they do today, but they didn't have the things available to them to stay in the kind of shape that they do today, like the trailers that follow the Tour, the trainers that are with them to help them solve any physical problems they have. All of those things are just going with the Tour. The way the Tour grew, that grew.
MODERATOR: Mr. Palmer, as always, we appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.