By Brendan Moloney
THE members of the Australian Golf Writers Association join the rest of the golfing fraternity in their sorrow at the passing of Arnold Palmer.
His magnificent record of seven majors and the charisma that attracted unprecedented numbers to “Arnie’s Army” are well known. Eloquent tributes have started to flow and will continue for many days. Rather than duplicate them, the AGWA would like to remember him for what he did in Australia. John Greenhill, the pro at Huntingdale, recalled him calling into the pro shop for a chat most days during the Australian Masters. He also surprised the members by turning up early for a practice round and afterwards shouting the bar.
He remembered the first time he played with the late Ted Ball in Australia in the 1960s. Ball birdied four of the first five holes and following their perfunctory handshake on the first tee, Palmer asked him his name again. Ball looked him in the eye and replied: “Arnold Palmer.” When Ball died in 1995 they organised a memorial tournament on the Bellarine Peninsula and Palmer responded to a request by Greg Norman in America to tape a message. He said: “Do I remember Cricket? We used to get pissed together.”
Older golf fans still talk about the shot he played to the ninth green in the 1964 Wills Masters tournament at Victoria Golf Club. He arrived at the tree, which is no longer there, and found his ball lodged in a fork 20 feet above the ground. After some deliberation, and a wag in the crowd urging him use to his his tree iron, he climbed up and knocked the ball out. Forty years later he joined Victoria’s most famous member, Peter Thomson, to play an exhibition match before the Centenary Australian Open at the Australian in Sydney in 2004.
When asked why he was doing it when so many of the world’s best players had stayed away from the Open, the reply was pure Palmer:
“Well, I had a lot of reasons. I had not been here in so many years and I did not want to leave the world without having come back. That’s part of the reason. Over the years I have enjoyed it so much. My lady has never been to Australia so I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to bring her. I have had the opportunity this year to do the toast to the Duke for the 250th anniversary of the R & A. And I also had the opportunity to be in Canada to help toast the 100thanniversary of the Canadian Open. I thought it was only appropriate to come here and help with the 100th anniversary of the Australian Open. All of those things, plus the desire to come back to Australia…
“It has been a long time since Peter and I played. I am not sure where it may have been but I think it is possible that the last time we played in a competition was at the British Open. He is a great player. What the hell? His record speaks for itself. I just had a Coke with him and it was great to talk about some of the old times and watch the young guys out there swinging. We pretty much parallel our thoughts along those lines. They are very good, although it is getting to the point where it is hard to tell them apart. They all swing so good and there really are a long of fine young players. That was what we were reminiscing about.”