lang="en-US"> Doc Giffin reflects on year since Arnold Palmer's death

A Year Without Arnie: Arnold Palmer’s right-hand man reflects on life since the King’s death

Life, like golf, requires adjustments. Doc Giffin had no choice but to make one on Sept. 25, 2016, the day that Arnold Palmer died. For the previous 50 years, Giffin had served as hand to the King, assisting with sundry duties that came with being the world’s most beloved golfer: outings, travel, mountains of correspondence, backlogs of media and autograph requests. A former Pittsburgh-based sportswriter who was working as press secretary for the PGA Tour when Palmer hired him in 1966, Giffin became many things to Arnie. Colleague. Confidant. Consigliere. Above all, though, the two were close friends, convening regularly for afternoon “debriefings” in Palmer’s home office in Latrobe, Pa. With the anniversary of Palmer’s death approaching, caught up with Giffin, who is 88, to find out how he’s adapted to life in Arnie’s absence.

GOLF: First things first, how have you been holding up?

GIFFIN: Reasonably well, especially given the fact that I’m still able to play golf. I do a minor workout regimen with some light exercises at a local rehab center here [in Latrobe]. And I have a pacemaker, but with it, my doctor says my heart is doing just fine.

There are so many ways we miss people who were close to us after they’re gone. But is there anything in particular you miss about Arnold?

I should point out that Arnold was here in Latrobe about five-plus months a year, and in Florida the other six-plus months. And I did not spend time with him in Florida, only when he was here. Over the five-plus months, we would get together not every day but several times a week, when it was convenient. Usually around 4:30 or quarter to five in the afternoon, he’d say, “Come on up to the house and we’ll debrief.” So I’d go up there, maybe with the two secretaries and another guy from the office, possibly joined by some of Arnold’s golfing buddies. We’d just sit around talk and have cocktails. A lot of the times, Arnold would make the drinks for us. Often, there was golf on television, or in some cases, a Western would be on. Arnold was a big fan of Western movies and novels. 

How did you fill those debriefing hours after his death?

Well, instead of going up to his house after work, I’d have my cocktail at home.

It must have been a difficult transition.

I lost a dear friend. But in terms of filling the time, that adjustment has not been so drastic. I have not had too much trouble finding ways to occupy myself.

Did you have loose ends to tie up around the office? Unfinished projects that you and he had been working on?

There really weren’t any unfinished projects. We had a day-to-day routine of sorting through communications. Mail. Business activities. Although he slowed down toward the end and practically did no appearances, there were still things to do. But once he was gone, the office was really pretty static. There was not a lot to do. There were some things to clean up. And there is still a lot of work to do in the settlement of the estate and that’s still in the process, but I am not involved with that.

What are your daily duties like today?

I officially retired in April. That was the plan for the entire span of my association with Arnold. I always told him that I would retire when he retired. Of course, I didn’t anticipate that he would pass away ahead of me. And I didn’t really think he’d retire so I thought we’d both die with our boots on. But when he passed away, there was really no reason to keep the office in Latrobe open full time, and my work was primarily directly with him, rather than with the operation of the business, so it made sense for me and the two secretaries who worked in the office to retire. For all intents and purposes, the office is closed.

So, how are you occupying your time?

I read the newspapers. I do some writing. Since 1966, I have been one of the writers of The World of Professional Golf, the annual publication that [IMG founder] Mark McCormack started. So I have that to keep up with. I also play golf a couple of times a week. And I play very, very badly, I must say. When Arnold hired me, one of the things he did was make me a member of Latrobe Country Club, and so I have been playing golf there ever since. 

Do you keep score?

Of course. I usually shoot something between 100 and 110, which is very embarrassing. At my best, I was about a 17-handicap. I could hit the ball. Now I can’t hit it out of my shadow. But I still love it. I love the game. It’s just so frustrating when it takes four shots to get on the green on a par 4.

How do you maintain the love amid the frustrations?

Oh, just by keeping at it. You know how it is. You hit one or two shots, and it brings you back. 

Even as his own game declined, Arnold never seemed to lose his love for the game.

It was tough on him those last two or three years. He hadn’t lost any love. But he was physically unable to play like he did before. And the last year, he wasn’t able to hit balls and that was extremely frustrating and upsetting to him.

Are there any players you think he’d be rooting for the most today?

There were quite a number of players he liked. When Rory played for the first time at Bay Hill, they got together and Arnold really enjoyed his company. And when Jason Day won at Bay Hill, Arnold had him out to the house for cocktails and enjoyed talking with him. He was impressed with both of them. He always like Phil and Phil’s attitude. He particularly liked the fact that Phil picked up on Arnold’s criticism of not signing autographs legibly.  And of course he had conversations with Tiger but they were not in contact very much.

Do you have anything planned to mark the anniversary of his passing?

I do not. There is no gravesite. Arnold’s ashes were scattered on the course, just as his father, Deacon’s, were, and those of Arnold’s younger brother, Jerry, who passed a way a few months after Arnold. And I don’t think there is anything planned to mark the anniversary, at least that I’m aware of.

Maybe the most appropriate thing to do would be to play a round of golf?

The club did have an event last Friday, inviting all the members to play a 16-hole round. That was something that started a couple of years ago, once a summer. Arnold would often play with his buddies, and one time he stopped at the 16h hole and decided that that was as far as he wanted to go. So everyone playing with him stopped and gathered around the 16th green and someone brought out drinks. And so the club duplicated that event, and followed it with dinner with items on the menu that Arnold liked, meatloaf and things like that. As far as I know, that was the only thing the club has done.

With all the memories you have of your time with Arnold, do you have any plans to write a book?

I do not. I told Arnold that from the beginning. I don’t think I’m ever going to write a book. I just felt that I was privileged to everything that went on his life, and he wouldn’t have to worry about anything private put out in a book by one of his friends.

Is there anything you wish you had a chance to talk to him about but didn’t? Or anything you’d like to talk to him about today? 

I used to enjoy bringing him up to date on things in the world of golf. Maybe something I had watched on TV or picked up on the Internet and we’d talk about it. I always enjoyed hearing his opinion about certain players or tournaments. I miss that part of it very much.

And anything you wish you’d had a chance to say to him or ask him?

Not really. There wasn’t really anything left unsaid.

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