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A Life Well Played
By Arnold Palmer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Arnold Palmer Enterprises, Inc
All rights reserved.
THE GOLF SWING
"Hit it hard, boy, go find it, and hit it hard again."
Those early words from my father formed the very essence of my approach to golf from a very young age. From the beginning I took his advice to heart, and as a young boy I sometimes swung at the ball so hard I nearly toppled over. I remember how a prominent member at Latrobe Country Club once saw me take a cut at the ball and commented to my father that he better do something to fix my swing. My father leveled his gaze at the man and said, simply, "You let me worry about my kid, and you just take care of your own game."
When I began to have some success in junior golf, well-meaning people would watch me slug a golf ball with my homemade corkscrew swing that relied a lot on my upper body strength, and they would offer me well-meaning tips on ways to improve it — as if it needed improving. I just knew it worked for me, and no one was going to convince me otherwise. Pap's basic premise was that once you had the proper grip and understood the fundamental motion behind the swing, the trick was to find the swing that worked best for you and your body type, maximizing your power.
And I wasn't going to let doubters get to me, either. I remember very early in my rookie year hitting balls at Chick Harbert's club in Detroit when I realized that George Fazio and Toney Penna were standing there watching me. Penna was practically a ball-striking legend. Well, I wanted to impress them, so I took some strong cuts with my driver to send balls to the other side of the practice range. I figured they would marvel at my power. After a few swings, I heard Penna ask Fazio if he knew who I was. Fazio replied, "That's Arnold Palmer; he just won the National Amateur."
Then I heard Penna say, "Well, better tell him to get a job. With that swing of his he'll never make it out here." I really burned inside at that remark. And over the first few years of my professional career I heard some similar remarks.
There was no question my swing was unique. I swung my swing, if you don't mind me stealing a line from one of my television commercials. I had one of the biggest turns on tour, with my body rotating far to the right until I had turned my back to the target. My left hip and shoulder swung way around, something neither I nor my father ever really intended. When one fellow professional nudged Pap and asked him if he taught me that turn, he simply responded in his own reserved way, "Now wouldn't that have been a silly thing to do?"
What he meant was that a teaching pro — and my father made himself into an excellent teacher through his own diligence and ability — should never urge his pupils to think a certain way about the turn. I certainly never worried about it because it just occurred naturally in my swing with my hands and arms pulling my body around, something that proved a huge asset. I generated a lot of power with that swing until a hip injury started to slow me down in the late 1960s.
But these kinds of observations continued for some time. Sam Snead once gave me a sort of backhanded compliment. He told reporters that he liked the fluid swings of players like Bert Yancey or Tommy Aaron compared to mine. But, he added, "If they ever had the determination of Arnold Palmer they would do better."
No one was more critical of my game than Ben Hogan.
I'd seen Ben Hogan at various tournaments, but I didn't meet him until the Masters in 1955. To be honest, I was so in awe of the man, and so naturally shy, I felt he was utterly unapproachable. At Augusta someone introduced us, and we shook hands. He was polite enough, but I felt the cool distance others sensed while in his presence. Hogan was still limping from his 1950 car crash but remained the most dangerous player of his age, maybe the best ball-striker who ever lived. I was at first surprised by — and later angered about — the fact that he never, in the years I knew him, called me by my first name. Ten million golf fans have felt completely comfortable calling me "Arnie," but Hogan never called me by name. He only called me "fella," even when I played for him in the Ryder Cup.
Three years after that first meeting, my good friend Dow Finsterwald set up a practice-round game against Hogan and Jackie Burke at Augusta on Tuesday morning. Because I was in a Monday playoff at the Azalea Open in Wilmington, I didn't arrive in Augusta until late that night. Well, more like early Tuesday. I played very poorly, but we took $35 apiece off the two Texans, thanks to Dow. After the match, as I was changing my shoes in the locker room, I heard Hogan talking to Burke, and he wondered aloud, loud enough for me to hear — perhaps even on purpose — how I had ever been invited to play in the Masters. The words I heard were, "Tell me something, Jackie," he said to Burke. "How the hell did Palmer get in the Masters?"
I was a little disappointed that Hogan talked that way. It was a real blow to my ego. And I knew that much of the source of his criticism was my aggressive style of play and my unique swing, which obviously was the antithesis of his game. Hogan was a precise shotmaker with the most repeatable swing in golf.
But even before Hogan poked at me, I had a strong determination to play well at Augusta. My record there up to that point was decent, but there seemed to be this growing belief that I didn't have the game to win there — or in many other places. In the early months of 1958, I had won at St. Petersburg by closing with a 65 to edge Dow and Fred Hawkins, but I had been in contention several other times without winning, including second in Tijuana, seventh in Panama, second in Baton Rouge, and third in New Orleans. Why would Augusta be any different, particularly with my low ball flight that was such an ill fit for Augusta National? Well, because I believed in myself and in my golf swing. And I had such strong determination. And I knew deep down that I was playing well enough to win. And, of course, I did just that for my first Masters and second major title after my U.S. Amateur victory.
Golf, of course, is more than just how you swing the club. The fact is, I could easily swing a golf club as pretty as the next guy, but it wouldn't have gotten the job done for me. Sure, my swing was herky-jerky as some of the "experts" called it, but it was effective. And I owned my swing, including that high finish with that bit of a windmill action at the top, which I began using in high school to fight off a strong draw (that sometimes was a strong hook). My swing was the exact opposite of Jack Nicklaus's swing. His power came from the waist down with those tree-trunk legs of his. Mine came from my shoulders and arms and hands.
But the reason my golf swing worked so effectively goes back to a few fundamentals, and not just the proper grip. I understood that keeping my head and feet — the anchor points of the swing — as quiet as possible, enabled me to hit the ball solidly all the time. Especially important was keeping my head very still; it's almost impossible to make a bad swing if your grip is good and you keep your head in place. And although I made a big turn, I kept my swing compact, which further helped me to keep the club under control, even when I swung all out.
I can't tell you how important those basics were over the years. And I can't tell you how satisfying it was to keep making people eat their words. Legendary sportswriter Jim Murray once wrote that my swing "looked like a guy beating a carpet." Maybe so, but it was effective in beating the opposition, too.CHAPTER 2
I've never made it a secret that the turning point in my golf career and life was my victory in the 1954 U.S. Amateur championship at Country Club of Detroit. The U.S. Amateur was a big deal in that era, which is one reason why I consider myself a winner of eight major championships, instead of the seven that I'm given credit for in my professional career. When you finish first in such a huge tournament with the kind of talent gathered that week in Detroit, I can tell you that winning it felt like winning a major championship.
I was pretty fortunate to be near the top of my game that week. Just seven months removed from my three-year hitch in the Coast Guard, I was coming off what was perhaps my biggest win to date, the All-American at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago, an event that has long been defunct but was a significant tournament in 1954.
I fought my way through the field at the U.S. Amateur with a series of cliffhangers, including a rally from 2 down with seven to play in my quarterfinal match against Don Cherry. In the semifinals, I needed a birdie on the 39th hole to subdue Ed Meister. In the final against former British Amateur champion Bob Sweeny, I had fallen behind rather quickly as Bob, who at forty-three was nearly twice my age, sank a succession of lengthy birdie putts. I was 3 down after four holes before I knew it. Walking off the fourth green, he put an arm around my shoulder and said to me, "Arnie, you know there's one consolation: You know I can't keep doing this."
Well, he was right, and eventually my advantage off the tee — I routinely outdrove him by 30–40 yards — began to make a difference. Still, I wasn't able to claim my first lead until the 32nd hole of the 36-hole match. (I guess you could say I was charging even in match play.) I went 2 up when I sank a seven-foot birdie putt on the next hole, and although Sweeny birdied the 35th hole from 15 feet, I still felt in control and was able to close out my 2-up victory.
What's that you ask? Didn't I only win 1-up? Why, yes, come to think of it, I did. At least that's what the record book says.
But in actuality the true score was a 2-up victory. Let me explain.
On the par-4 18th hole I smoked a drive right down the middle of the fairway after Bob had hit a weak fade that ended up in the high fescue rough behind two trees. I hit a 4-iron into the green for my next shot while Bob couldn't even reach the green with a 3-iron because he was blocked out by the trees. Soon after Bob conceded the hole and the match.
On the 18th green, USGA executive director Joe Dey said to me, "Arnie, if you don't mind, we'll call this a 1-up victory." Joe had known what had happened. I smiled and replied, "Joe, I don't care what you call this." All I cared about was that he was going to call me the champion.
In his report on the championship the following week in Sports Illustrated, the esteemed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind delivered a riveting account of the championship, including the taut final between Bob and me. But his only reference to the final hole was in passing when he wrote: "Though Sweeny fought back to take the 35th with a 15-footer that he had to hole to keep alive and so carried the match right to the home green, in the opinion of both finalists it was the 33rd that was decisive." So what happened on the 36th hole? Wind doesn't say. Talk about anticlimactic.
And so now you know the rest of the story. Whether it was 1-up or 2-up, who really cares. I just know that the "up" part was next to my name. And my career seemed to just keep going up from there. And I was riding a wave of great fortune at that time that carried over to the following week. I'll get to that soon enough.CHAPTER 3
MISSING IN ACTION
I shot my lowest 72-hole score in my first PGA Tour victory, the 1955 Canadian Open at Weston Golf and Country Club, where I came in with a 23-under-par 265 total after rounds of 64, 67, 64, and 70 to beat Jackie Burke by four strokes. My score in relation to par set a Canadian Open record that has yet to be broken
It was a victory I almost didn't get to enjoy, but for the fact that I knew well the rules of golf.
Just as I had been in the third round, I was paired in the final round with Tommy Bolt, who was known as a rather ill-tempered sort, but that was only with a golf club in his hands. He built up quite a reputation because he tended to throw a club here and there in frustration, but he was one of the nicest men you could know. In fact, he sort of took me under his wing in my rookie year, and Winnie and I even traveled with him and his wife, Mary Lou.
With just a few holes left to go my lead was comfortable enough over Jack Burke, the third member of our group, that I wasn't too concerned when I hit a tee shot into the woods left of the fairway. As I was milling about assessing my option on my next shot, I felt a tug on my elbow. It was Tommy, and he whispered to me that I should just chip it out into the fairway. I pulled away and continued to look at my options. I heard what he said, but I had to pretend that I didn't, because getting advice from anybody but your caddie is a two-stroke penalty. All I could think at this point was that he was going to cost me the tournament.
So I go walking forward real fast, pretending to look at the line of the shot to the green through the trees. When I got back close to the ball, Tommy is still hovering nearby, and he says again, this time quite a bit louder, "Chip it out safe. Don't do nothing silly." Well, I'm not worried about doing anything silly. I'm worried about Tommy continuing to do something silly, which is trying to "help" me. He had the best of intentions, granted, but I was getting pretty annoyed.
I still pretended not to hear him, and I continued to pretend to look at my options. Tommy now has turned his back, and before he can turn around again I grab an iron and quickly hit the ball through the trees right at the green. I got there, too. Was I crazy? No. But that choice was the only option I had left to me. I certainly couldn't chip out.
Of course, no one was happier for me than Tommy was when I won the tournament. You can be sure I was darn happy. The breakthrough meant a great deal to me beyond the $2,400 first prize. Unfortunately, my elation was short-lived.
I can honestly say that I probably never putted better in my life than I did those four days at Weston. But something troubling happened in the aftermath of the tournament, something that I didn't even realize until I got to the next event, also in Canada, the Labatt Open at Summerlea Golf & Country Club near Montreal. When I got there I looked in my bag, and my Wilson putter was not in it.
I called club officials at Weston, but nobody had seen it, and neither had the man who caddied for me that week. Somebody apparently had walked off with it sometime after I holed a ten-footer for my last putt of the tournament. There was a lot of excitement in the aftermath. Fans were on the green before I could even pick that last putt out of the hole, and I remember shaking a lot of hands and accepting pats on the back as I was engulfed by well-meaning folks.
The newspapers hailed me as the favorite at Summerlea after my big victory (Gene Littler ended up winning), but no one knew that I had lost my putter. I borrowed a putter from Fred Haas to practice with, and a couple of new putters arrived from Wilson before the tournament began. But those new putters just weren't the same. They didn't have the same feel. Plus, that putter that I lost was hot. By that I mean I had a great deal of confidence in it and felt I could hole putts from anywhere. On the sentimental side, I sure hated to lose the putter that gave me my first PGA title. To this day I've never discovered what happened to it, and it would have been nice to be able to have it for posterity's sake.
Painfully, I learned a new rule that week. Don't let your clubs out of your sight.
Excerpted from A Life Well Played by Arnold Palmer. Copyright © 2016 Arnold Palmer Enterprises, Inc. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
1. The Golf Swing,
3. Missing in Action,
4. Big Picture,
7. My Very Best Golf,
8. My Best Tip,
10. Check Please,
13. Hit It in the Hole,
14. Instructions on Instruction,
17. Pine Valley,
18. Playing Boldly,
19. Trouble Shots,
22. The Debutante,
26. The Charge,
1. Life Goes On,
2. Arnie's Army,
5. Ultimate Win,
7. The Press,
8. Life Jacket,
10. Pap's Award,
15. Soft Spot,
17. Golf and My Girls,
24. Staying Grounded,
25. The Interview,
26. Heeeere's ... Arnie,
27. Be Yourself,
28. Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve,
3. The Art of Tea,
4. Bay Hill,
6. Just Do What You Love,
8. A Man's Word,
12. Pebble Beach,
14. No Means ...,
15. The Tractor,
16. Senior Moments,
17. A Life's Work,
THE FINAL LESSON,
About the Author,