Arnold Palmer: The Life and Legacy on Tour Confidential

September 26, 2016

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Arnold Palmer died Sunday in Pittsburgh at the age of 87. There’s not enough space in this forum to remember all that Palmer did for the game, but in your mind what will define his legacy?

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): His populist appeal is central to his legacy, and that appeal is rooted in the way he managed to be mythic and human all at once. A lot of sports stars show those two sides, but rarely simultaneously, as Palmer so often did.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): No pro athlete has ever looked better in competition. Palmer exuded an earthy sex appeal and a postwar, American dream vibe that makes Don Draper look like Donald Duck. Those old pics of Palmer glowering on a tee box with a cigarette or slashing at the ball are utterly timeless. And they still will be 100 years from now.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Arnie was golf to America. He was like James Bond in the sense that every guy wanted to be him, every woman wanted to be with him. His legacy is that he broadened the game’s appeal more than anyone before or after and he was a man of the people. He didn’t just love golf, he loved golfers.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): He was an American icon who happened to be damn good at golf and one of the few who everyone knew on a first-name basis.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): It’s impossible to sum up Palmer’s legacy in a few paragraphs, but one constant throughout his life and career was his ability to connect with people. He just oozed charisma. Anyone who ever met him has a story from it. Heck, anyone who stood in the same room with him had a story. But he was also so disarming and kind. His contributions to golf are immeasurable. So was his generosity. He will be missed.

2. Just about everyone around the game has a favorite Arnie story or memory. What’s yours?

SENS: I’ll be 50 in a few months and didn’t grow up playing golf. My memories of Palmer are all when he was well past his prime. What sticks out in my mind are the many times I saw him hitting shots that an average weekend player could equally match, and yet seeming as happy as any golfer anywhere. He did it at Augusta. He did at Bay Hill. He did it everywhere he went. It was pretty remarkable — a golf-god reduced to mere mortal status, but not seeming diminished in the least.

SHIPNUCK: The handshake. Decades ago I remember reading a list of things every golfer should do and one item was shaking Arnie’s hand. I thought that was curious … until the first time I met him. His big, meaty paw practically swallowed my arm! Those were the calloused hands of a craftsman, and the crushing grip was as manly as it gets.

GODICH: The first tournament I attended was the 1970 Byron Nelson Classic. I was 13 and a member of Arnie’s Army. Weather delays necessitated a 36-hole Sunday finale. Arnie and Jack were paired together in the final group, with journeyman John Schroeder serving as the third wheel . My dad and I walked every step of the afternoon 18 with them, along with the sudden-death playoff hole. Jack won with a birdie, but Arnie owned Preston Trail that day. He was larger than life.

VAN SICKLE: At the 1989 PGA at Kemper Lakes, Arnie was in the middle of shooting an opening 68 and I was caught up in a mad stampede as fans scrambled to follow him past the clubhouse as he made the turn. Nobody expected a miracle, but the chance to see Arnie enjoy a day in the sun was too good to pass up. It was an encore for Arnie’s Army, and the chaos was wonderful.

RITTER: About five years ago, I was lucky enough to interview Palmer in his Latrobe, Pa., home. We toured his workshop, and he whipped out an iron and regripped it in about 30 seconds. At the end of the interview, I asked him what he typically drank at the end of a long day on the links — an intentional softball — but instead of plugging his signature drink, he grinned slyly and blurted, “Kettle One and soda.” We both cracked up. What a day.

3. Rory McIlroy won the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus by beating Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell in a playoff on Sunday at East Lake. A month ago the golf world was ready to write off McIlroy’s season. Now he’s won twice in three starts and is taking a full head of steam into the Ryder Cup. How would you assess his year?

SHIPNUCK: I’d give him a B-. Rory himself said a while ago that the money doesn’t mean much to him. Winning two good-but-not-great tourneys at the end of the year is nice but what linger are the missed cuts at the U.S. Open and the PGA and the dreadful 77 he shot on Masters Saturday while paired with Spieth. For a Hall-of-Fame talent like McIlroy the majors are the only thing that really matters.

GODICH: Exactly, Alan. It’s all about the majors with Rory. He hasn’t bagged one since the 2014 PGA and didn’t contend in a major this year.  I’d like to get excited about what his recent play means for Augusta, but we’ve been down this road before.

SENS: Well said. By his own standards, he can’t get glowing marks. But he sure is peaking at the right time for Hazeltine. Even his winning celebration (double fists extended, shouting “Come on!”) was eerily similar to his celebrations at Ryder Cups past.

RITTER: Rory is no doubt disappointed to come up empty in the majors this year, but he looks ready to unleash his frustration on the U.S. team this weekend at Hazeltine. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went unbeaten.

VAN SICKLE: Rory got back on the horse in the last month. I’d give him a B+ because his upside is so large. I expect him to have a big 2017 once he switches to a different equipment company and ball now that Nike is out of golf equipment. I believe he’ll regain the No. 1 world ranking next season.

4. After a week of hype and speculation, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III announced his fourth and final captain’s pick: Tour Championship runner-up Ryan Moore. Did Love pick the right guy and generally how would you assess his four picks?

SHIPNUCK: Yes, Moore was clearly the right choice. The other three guys are nice, solid, safe, unimaginative picks. Love deserves credit simply for not going with Furyk.

SENS: Ask me next Monday, once we’ve seen how many clutch 8-footers Moore makes. I like the pick. Maybe he’ll play great, maybe he won’t. But isn’t it refreshing that we’ve got a new name and face to follow in the Ryder Cup?

VAN SICKLE: Waiting until Sunday night after East Lake backed Love into a corner. If Moore or Chappell had won, would you really pass them up? And if so, why wait? I think it’s a mistake to wait until after the Tour Championship. Just pick all four after BMW. I like Moore and the pick because he is the best putter among the other candidates, by a mile, and the Ryder Cup is a putting contest.

RITTER: Exactly, Gary. If Love didn’t pick Moore, what was the point of waiting until after the Tour Championship? Moore was such an obvious pick, to go any other direction would’ve created an early-week distraction for the team.

GODICH: This was a no-brainer. Moore has been among the hottest Americans of late, and you can’t overlook his history of success in match play. Speaking of which, I had him beating Rory 2 and 1 on Sunday. Early point for the red, white and blue?

5. Phil Mickelson criticized the thickness of the rough at East Lake, saying the PGA Tour should have worked with the PGA of America to make East Lake a better prep for Hazeltine. Mickelson also said that “it might have been a mistake to wait this long for the final [U.S. captain’s] pick.” Is Lefty right on any of these assertions?

SENS: And they say that the Ryder Cup task force is overkill. Methinks Phil is overthinking the matter of the rough. Ditto his take on the captain’s pick. The whole point was to try to get the hot hand. Mission accomplished.

SHIPNUCK: Phil loves to over-complicate things, and this is the latest example. And as a member of the Task Force he shoulda felt empowered to hop on a mower and cut the rough!

RITTER: I don’t want to overanalyze Phil’s overanalysis, but to further overcomplicate things, Phil put in a new driver this week with a longer shaft to get some extra yards, and he plans to play it at Hazeltine. That may be overkill.

VAN SICKLE: Phil is two for two. But who’s fault is the lack of communication? Come on, Task Force. It’s not the PGA Tour’s job to win the Ryder Cup. And second, why would you expect a guy who putts or plays well on Bermuda at East Lake to fare well on the bent grass of Hazeltine? They are completely different surfaces and for that reason, there was no reason to wait for the Tour Championship. Phil is right. He should have been more proactive on these points or, if he was, he should have been listened to.

GODICH: Phil being Phil.

6. In a radio interview last week, Love called his squad the “the best golf team, maybe, ever assembled.” (To which Rory McIlroy shot back, “Definitely assembled the best task force ever.”) From top to bottom, is there another international team that rivals the U.S. side heading to Hazeltine?

SENS: The International team in the Presidents Cup looks pretty strong from a distance: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace, Emiliano Grillo, to name a few. Then again, the Ryder Cup has taught us many times over how important it is to be the best team on paper, which is not at all.

VAN SICKLE: It’s not very smart to talk smack when you’re getting your ass kicked every two years. The 1981 team featured 11 future Hall of Famers. This U.S. team features all of six guys who won anything this year. It was an absurd comment and it provides fuel for the European bulletin board. And say, DL3, weren’t you telling us your guys are the underdogs for this Cup? Somebody needs a mulligan.

SHIPNUCK: This was such a weird, inexplicable thing for Love to say. The U.S. has lost 8 of the last 10 Cups. Love shoulda remembered the bar brawler’s maxim: Punch first, talk later. If the Americans win in a blowout then you can do some crowing. But not now!

GODICH: Scratching my head on this one. I can’t begin to understand Love’s motivation. I also imagine he can’t be too thrilled with the way eight of his nine players performed at the Tour Championship.

RITTER: Love has fired the first shot on behalf of his team. No pressure, guys!