Mr. Arnold Palmer was laid to rest today. I guess Arnie and I will never will get that Fall Goose hunting trip in we had planned on together.
I had the honor of meeting Arnold Palmer over 25 years ago. I was at the GTE NW Classic Senior tournament held in Kenmore, Washington at Inglewood Golf and Country Club. I worked for the Company that printed the Programs, tickets, etc. and took the afternoon on Pro-Am day to take in the event, and follow my golf hero Arnold Palmer.
I had a momentary lapse in my judgement with the zeal of gaining close proximity to my hero due to the thin Wednesday Pro-Am gallery and “Arnie’s Army”. I approached my Golf hero Arnie filled with excitement as he walked from a green to the next tee. I asked Arnie for his autograph of my Program. He looked at me and said tersely, and very father-like… “I am working here young man, this is not the time.” I apologized and drifted back into the crowd. The disgust and embarrassment of my action, and the obvious offense taken by Arnie with his reaction; was etched all over my crestfallen face as I melted into the crowd disengaging the penetrating and disapproving gaze of his eye contact. I was so disappointed and crushed that I had offended my golf hero! What an idiot I am, I told myself. I followed Arnie the rest of the round, nary a peep, offering the restrained and buttoned down behavior that Golf, and it’s legendary Arnold Palmer expect. Several times over the hour, Arnold would be scanning the sparse gallery, and set eyes on me. I would look him directly in the eye, and return his gaze with a sincere, apologetic gaze. Then another time he set eyes on mine, and he smiled at me. It was a warm smile that communicated through gentle eyes, without words…”I’m sorry son, you are forgiven.”
About an hour after my awkward gaffe, the players group ahead were stacked up on the green of a par 3 while Arnie’s group waited for it to clear. Arnie was chatting up the crowd on the tee right alongside the Sammamish Slough during the wait. I was still maintaining my decorum, at a respectful and apprehensive distance when those eyes met mine once again. He smiled and waved to me to come over…I looked behind me to be sure he meant me, he waved again and said, “Come on, now is the time.” My heart beat like a rabbit as I scurried over. He propped his driver’s grip against his belly as he took my program, and asked my name to sign his autograph. I told him it was a pleasure to meet him, our apology had already been accomplished visually, words were not necessary. As he handed my program back, a flock of Canada Geese flew directly over us in Shotgun range. He quickly snapped up his driver, head in armpit and took aim following the lead goose as it went over us, he barked out three good shots “boom, boom, boom!” Pumping the shaft of his driver with every shot. The crowd laughed. Arnie turned and said to me,. “I bet you guys have some great goose hunting here, what kind of geese were those?” I told him I thought those were the local Lesser Canada residents, and that we had great Snow Geese hunting an hour due North of here. I then told him that Eastern Washington had amazing Northern migrations of Greater Canada’s through our Wheat fields in the Fall. He said to me, as he warmly tapped my chest with the back of his hand, “Well maybe I will have to fly on up here and try a hunt sometime in the Fall”. “I will be your guide anytime!” I said at his playful offer that we both knew would never happen, and he went back to his ‘work’.
I will never forget that moment. I went from being crushed by my hero; to lifted by my hero. Mr. Palmer knew it. Arnie recognized it, and he cared about taking time for rectifying the image and impression I would be left with. He would not allow me to have a negative impression of his interaction with this anonymous fan; I am quite sure I was not alone among the tens of millions he certainly came in contact with during his lifetime.
That is Class. That is being a Gentleman. That is being a Legend. That was the Great Arnold Palmer.
There aren’t many examples of Celebrity, and Sport figures that are like him in this day and age. Sadly so few can measure up to our greats, like Mr. Palmer. Seattle Seahawk’s QB Russell Wilson comes to mind as a refreshing exception, he is building a legacy the right way. Tiger Woods, not so much. There are rare exceptions of our generation, but most never seem to understand that your legacy in the end will be more about the person you are in God’s eyes when you leave this earthly world; than the titles, awards, fame, money, and trophies you acquire. I wish Mr. Palmer and I really could have shared a Goose Pit blind in an Ephrata Wheat field on a frosty Autumn morning. In a way though, I did get to do an air-shell pre-season Goose hunt with Arnie. God Bless and keep you Mr. Palmer. Good Hunting!