Palmer is one of those guys. Always has been. And that’s why so many people want to meet the King.
A staff member came into the room and mentioned two men who were outside the office and wanted to say hello. One was Seth Jones, the editor of Golfdom magazine who recently interviewed Palmer for a project he was working on.
“Well, bring him in,” Palmer said, rising from behind his desk with a broadening smile. Dressed in slacks and a pink shirt, Palmer made sure the two men met everyone in the room and made small talk for a few minutes before closing with that powerful handshake and a smile. “Nice to see you guys,” he told them.
He sat back down at his desk and picked up a sheet of paper. It was a letter to David Frost, who won the Toshiba Classic on the Champions Tour the day before.
“Congratulations on your strong performance in the Toshiba Classic,” he said, reading the letter aloud. “He’s playing pretty good.”
He reached for a black pen and signed his name, as famous as any signature in sports.
The other letter on his desk was for Kevin Streelman, who won the Tampa Bay Championship for his first PGA Tour title in 153 tries. Palmer watched most of the back nine on television and was impressed with what he saw. He had this letter placed in Streelman’s locker downstairs.
Talk about a tradition like no other. For years, Palmer has written a note of congratulations to the winners on every tour every week.
Palmer looked down at his desk and found two index cards that had been marked up, and then started rattling off numbers. The 443 beds in the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. The 13,000 babies born last year alone. The only high-level trauma center in central Florida dedicated to children. More than 3,500 employees and 450 doctors employed by both hospitals.
“That’s just a few of the things that we are pushing,” Palmer said. “It’s a big deal. We’d like to be the No. 1 children’s hospital in the world for children and women.”
He rapped the wooden desk for luck.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational starts this week with one of the strongest fields among PGA Tour events this year. Tiger Woods is the defending champion and a seven-time winner, with a chance to go back to No. 1 in the world with another victory. Brandt Snedeker is playing for the first time since his win at Pebble Beach, missing the next five weeks with a rib injury. Masters champion Bubba Watson will be there, too.
Palmer smiles at the mention of Watson’s shot out of the trees on the 10th hole at Augusta National last year to win a playoff.
“It was a great shot, but I don’t think it was spectacular,” Palmer said. “It was more natural for him to hit than anything in the world.”
Not many can appreciate the art of recovery quite like Palmer. It’s part of what made him so famous. He was willing to take on any shot, hitching up his pants and slashing away. It was never boring watching Palmer play golf.