I’m fortunate in that I share a love for Golf with a love for NASCAR and thought if was strange that both of my favorite sports have a king. When you travel in the NASCAR circles and have a conversation about the king, everyone knows you are talking about Richard Petty, in golf it’s Arnold Palmer. No other sports I know of have kings. Baseball had the Sultan of Swat, hockey had The Great One and football had Johnny U. But no king.
Although Jack Nicklaus has the most victories at Augusta National, and the most Green Jackets, the focus at the 2014 Masters has been The King. After all, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Kings last Masters victory in 1964, and his last major victory. It was ironic that both the King and Jack both won the final major of their careers at Augusta National.
I often wondered when I was younger what was so magical about this guy until I attended the 1980 Bing Crosby Pro Am at Pebble Beach. It’s now called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am, and I followed several golfers around for quite a few hole until I spotted a huge crowd and ask a guy what was going on. A guy told me nothing, it’s just Arnie and his Army.
In 1987 I was a member of new Palmer designed golf course in the Ft. Worth area of North Texas called Fossil Creek and was invited to come out on a Thursday morning to have breakfast with Arnie and watch him play an exhibition round on the new course. That was the morning I realized why there was an Arnie’s Army. It was one of the most memorable mornings of my life.
As a huge part of the success of professional golf in the USA, The 2014 Masters has become a celebration of The Kings last Masters win. And as a huge part of Masters History, it was no surprise that when the 84 year-old Palmer spoke in his press conference on Tuesday, everyone wanted to hear what he had to say.
A smattering of reporters sat and waited for Palmer to emerge from the closed-door behind the podium, and even more rushed in to find a seat once the 84-year-old walked out onto the stage. The low murmur of the crowd stopped and men and women of varying ages all eagerly leaned in.
I have long said that the success of professional golf in America, and around the world can be attributable to strong leadership from former players. That lack of strong leadership has hurt the growth of the LPGA, but LPGA director Michael Whan is trying to change the landscape by bringing in former players to prop up th sport. The PGA has never lacked support from former players to lead the way to the future of the sport.
For many years it was Bobby Jones as the torch was passed on to Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson that provided the leadership, and now it is Arnold Palmer who is the elder statesman of the sport. The sport couldn’t be in better hands with the King at the helm.