It could well be that Arnold Palmer has never played in a golf tournament more important than the 1965 PGA. This is his home course, and it was Palmer who was mainly responsible for bringing the tournament (which he has never won) to Laurel Valley. As he said after finishing his tune-up this afternoon, "I know a hell of a lot of the people here."
Yet it is not just that Palmer is playing at home in front of his neighbors and his family. He has won only one golf tournament in the last 15 months.
There are already those who proclaim that the era of Arnold Palmer is ending. But the man who is the most thrilling personality in golf since Bobby Jones and the best tournament player since Ben Hogan is not, at 35, ready to accept this judgment. Palmer will not allow himself to believe that Jack Nicklaus, 10 years his junior, is pushing him aside.
It is doubtful that anyone but Arnold Palmer could undertake four days of golf in a major championship under the load of distractions that he is carrying. The Palmer household, a place that is always as alive and electric as its owner, has been as harried as the mirror at a sorority convention ever since the week began. Yesterday was typical. Byron Nelson and his wife dropped by to say hello on their way from the airport. Dave Ragan brought his son Mike over to play with the Palmers' 7-year-old daughter Amy. Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tony Lema and Dave Marr all stopped by at one time or another. Winnie Palmer had hired a special bartender to come in during the afternoons of the week, and yesterday he was serving drinks until 9 at night.
When the last of the drop-ins had left, Winnie Palmer served steaks and salad to Arnold's lawyer-agent, Mark McCormack, and his wife, who were staying with the Palmers through the week, and Winnie's parents, in from Bethlehem, Pa., and the Ed Douglases from San Francisco. About 10 o'clock a friend of Palmer's from Cleveland phoned from the Pittsburgh airport to say he could find no transportation to Ligonier, which is a drive of an hour and a half. Palmer sent his pilot, Don Dungey, over in his Aero Commander to pick the fellow up and bring him back to the Latrobe airport. It was 11:30 before the friend reached the Palmers' house, but they gave him a drink before sending him on to his hotel.
Meanwhile, the Palmers' two phones never stopped ringing. Friends wanted them to know they had arrived. A stranger from Buffalo phoned to give Palmer a 20-minute lecture on positive thinking. A lady from North Carolina called with advice on putting. It was past midnight before Palmer got to bed.
This morning he was up at 8:30, and Winnie, who had already put the house into action an hour earlier, cooked him some eggs. Then he went into his downstairs workshop to grind and bend a few clubs, a hobby which is Palmer's equivalent of tranquilizer pills. By 9 Patty Aikens, his secretary, was at work in the small office just off the front door of the whitewashed brick house. Peggy, the Palmers' 9-year-old daughter who wants to be a swimming champion, had to be taken to the local pool for her morning workout. And Jay Hebert and Gardner Dickinson, on their way to the golf course, stopped by for a chat with Palmer down in the workshop.
Around 11 Palmer left for the course to practice. All the way down the 13-mile expressway between his house in Unity Township and the course at Ligonier, he could see that the countryside was with him. Signboards advertising local products added, "Good luck, Arnie."
At Laurel, Palmer picked up a practice with Hebert, Doug Sanders and Wes Ellis. Wearing a tan jersey and slacks and brown shoes, he looked as jaunty as a man just back from a rest cure. On five of the first six holes he was putting for birdies, but none of them dropped. He finally three-putted the long 18th—a hole that has all the golfers muttering to themselves—for a one-over par 36.
Somewhere, somehow, during the past months, Palmer has lost faith in his putting. Once he never doubted that the putts would go in. Now he is surprised when they do.
As they played each hole, Palmer helped Sanders with the distance to the various greens. Outside the fence bordering the 15th tee young admirers held up signs saying "Good luck, Arnie." Palmer paused to let them take snapshots.
"See you tomorrow," he called to them as he strode off down the course. At the 18th hole Palmer helped the marshals handle his huge Army trailing him even in this practice round. "Now, folks," he said, "If you would please just wait until all the golfers have hit their shots and then cross the fairway over there." Like a good army, they obeyed.
After his practice round, Palmer held an impromptu press conference. He praised the course, told of the changes made for the tournament and talked about the players he thought could win. (Marr was not among them.)
"Are you more charged up for this tournament than you have been in the last few weeks?" a reporter asked him.
"Yes, sir," Palmer replied firmly.
Later, when someone interrupted to ask Palmer about his state of mind, he replied brusquely, "We're talking about something else now. We were talking about that golf course. I don't have anything to say about my golf except that I think I'm playing well."
That evening, after changing out of his golf clothes, Arnold took Winnie to a couple of cocktail parties—part of the routine he feels he must follow as the unofficial tournament host. Afterwards, the Palmers took their houseguests to dinner at the Latrobe Country Club. The Palmers were in bed by 11, for Arnold had an 8:44 a.m. starting time.
Why should anyone sympathize with Arnold Palmer? It is Winnie Palmer who is taking the beating this week. This morning, setting the house in order, Winnie was up at 5:15 when the not-so-rosy-fingered dawn was creeping over the tall green forest of the Allegheny Mountains in the east. Arnold rolled out of bed at 6:30. Winnie boiled him a couple of eggs, and by 7:30 they were on their way to the golf course in the official courtesy car that had been assigned to Palmer for the tournament—a huge, dark-blue Chrysler Imperial sedan. Palmer is nothing if not loyal to his friends. George Love, the president of Laurel Valley Golf Club, is also chairman of the board of Chrysler.
As the Palmers wound their way along U.S. 30 they ran into heavy fog. Winnie thought it might delay the start of the tournament, but Arnold doubted her. He was wrong. The fog was thick, and officials decided to begin at 9. Palmer had a two-hour delay.
Even under the best of circumstances, it is not easy for a golfer to readjust himself to such a long wait when he is tense and ready. In Palmer's case there were added problems. Shortly after 9, President Eisenhower arrived on the private plane of Roger Firestone, one of the brothers of the rubber family. George Love greeted the General and gave him one of the shocking-pink club blazers that are worn by the members of Laurel Valley. Then Palmer posed for pictures with the General before going out to the practice tee to warm up, followed by Eisenhower and friends.
It was not the best way for a golfer to prepare himself for one of the critical tournaments of his career. Palmer, feeling obligated to make sure Eisenhower was enjoying himself, frequently interrupted his practice shots to chat with the General, who was standing a few feet behind him and making occasional comments. Concentration was difficult. After he had hit a hundred or so practice balls, Palmer followed his ever-present state police escort to the putting green. Autograph hunters swarmed around him, and he said, "I'll sign some of these, but I'll have to keep walking."
It was not until he had hit his first drive of the tournament down the first fairway that Palmer could finally be alone. Not all was well, however. He drove into a large bunker and then pulled a five-iron shot that landed to the left of the green and bounded into thick grass at the bottom of a gully.
There was no way Palmer could hit the ball out without striking his club against some wooden railings that were protecting the sides of a temporary bridge across the gully. After eight minutes had gone by, as he waited for a ruling, two over-zealous marshals took it on themselves to tear down the wooden supports. Palmer stood by, watching and smiling.
Few players know the rules of golf better than Arnold Palmer. If he had not been harried by so many distractions, he would have quickly realized that he was entitled to a free drop within two club lengths of the obstruction but that the obstruction itself could not be removed. Palmer went ahead and played the shot—a most delicate pitch out of the long rough—to within six feet of the hole. He sank the putt for his par 4.
On the 2nd hole Palmer almost put his approach shot into the hole, and he sank the short putt for a birdie 3. He seemed very much on his stick at this point, parring his way through the 5th hole. He was still one under when he stepped onto the 6th tee to drive. It was then that Jack Tuthill, the PGA tournament supervisor, drove up in a cart to advise Palmer that he was being given a two-stroke penalty for his rule infraction at the first hole. Palmer asked Bob McCallister and Al Geiberger, the two other players in his pairing, to drive ahead of him while he collected himself. He then hit a bad drive into the rough on the right, tried to play out of that lie with a wood and missed the shot, skimming it further into the rough on the right, where the ball struck a spectator. He finally got the ball to the green and two-putted for his par 5 on a hole where normally he could expect a birdie.
During the rest of the round Palmer lost two strokes to par, but got them back with birdies on the 11th and 12th holes. He finished with a one-over-par 72. Instead of being tied for eighth, he was tied for 19th. "It was all my fault," he said with customary graciousness. "I knew the rule, but I didn't apply it."
By now it was getting late in the afternoon, so Palmer had to rush home and change into a business suit. George Love was giving a stag dinner that night at the nearby Rolling Rock Club for General Eisenhower and his party. Palmer drove the 13 miles back to Ligonier, stopping at the brand-new Holiday Inn, of which he is part owner, to pick up Nicklaus, Gary Player and Dow Finsterwald, for whom he had arranged invitations to the party.
It was a quiet dinner, with no formal speeches. Palmer was back home by 11 and sat around chatting with his guests until time for bed at 12. It was his first full night's sleep of the week.
A refreshed Palmer got up at about 8. He put on a pair of gray slacks and a many-splendored blouse with vertical stripes that made you think of the coat of Joseph. After breakfast he went downstairs to the rumpus room, where McCormack was already deep in conference with lawyers and officers of the Arnold Palmer Company, working out new projects. Palmer sat in on the talks, looked over blueprints that were spread out on the pool table, offered suggestions, signed papers and then shut himself up in his workshop next door.
Palmer's clubs always look as if they had spent a couple of years in Vulcan's forge, and there he was, battering and grinding and bending them on the intricate machinery he keeps for the purpose. The one-iron got special attention when Palmer calibrated it and found it was "weak"—that is, had a bit too much loft. "Clubs always change just a little bit after you've used them," he explained. For a while the one-iron looked like a gooseneck putter, but eventually he got the "goose" out of it. He fiddled with a new one-iron, put a little extra weight on the head of a driver and finally unwrapped and wrapped a few grips. His clubs were ready.
McCormack and the lawyers were still in conference when Palmer came back to the rumpus room. He chatted with them for a few minutes before going upstairs to the kitchen to construct a ham-and-cheese-on-rye sandwich out of the makings that Winnie had put out. He washed that down with a glass of milk and went into the bedroom to lie down for a while. He started to read a magazine, got sleepy and snoozed for half an hour. By then it was time to drive to the golf course.
After the customary warmup, Palmer started down the 10th hole. The only problem at this point seemed to be whether the threatening clouds above would bring rain and whether they could finish the round before dark.
Palmer played No. 10 in a routine par 4. On the par-5 11th he pushed his drive into a bunker protecting the elbow of this doglegged hole, and then, because a spectator had been knocked unconscious just ahead, had to wait a good 20 minutes before playing his second shot. By the time he did he had lost some of his early concentration. He pushed the ball far to the right, and it rolled into a nest of large stones at the bottom of a small drainage ditch that had been staked out as a lateral hazard.
From the predicament Palmer tried to extricate himself with a sand wedge. It was an extremely awkward shot to hit from a contrived stance, and he just did get the ball out and into some long rough about 20 yards ahead, leaving him with a delicate 50-yard pitch to the green. He already lay 3 and, worse yet—which nobody but Palmer knew at the time—his Sand wedge had just barely nicked one of the stones during his backswing.
After hitting the next shot into a bunker alongside the green and exploding out, Palmer was on the green in 5. He missed a tricky, slippery two-foot putt and, at last, got the ball in the hole in seven strokes. After holing out he asked someone to send for Tuthill, the tournament supervisor, so he could report what had happened in the ditch.
Tuthill arrived when Palmer was waiting to putt on the 14th green. They conferred for a few minutes as the gigantic gallery buzzed in a puzzled sort of way. Tuthill officially confirmed what Arnold already knew: he had to take a two-stroke penalty on the 11th hole. So, instead of a double-bogey 7, he had a 9.
There seemed little hope for Palmer now—unless the thunder and lightning that was beginning to rattle the skies overhead should produce a squall that would wash out the round. Palmer looked up at the dark clouds and said, "Come on down."
Occasional showers punctuated the rest of the late afternoon, but the Army held on and even roared as if victory were in sight when Palmer put on a slight charge with birdies at the 5th and 6th holes. At least, he had made the cut.
"I haven't given up yet," Palmer said with a wry grin. Before he left the club, however, he had to face one more awkward problem that would not improve his peace of mind. In the middle of this afternoon word had spread through the press tent that Paul Erath, the club pro at Laurel Valley, was resigning. Erath, an elderly and often irascible man, was quoted by the Pittsburgh Press as saying that Palmer and the PGA were ruining the golf course he had worked so hard to prepare. His major complaint seemed to concern a huge evergreen tree that had been planted on Wednesday night at the corner of the 3rd tee to prevent the golfers from taking a shortcut to the right on this doglegged hole. Erath regretted the placement and blamed Palmer for it.
Naturally, the reporters wanted Palmer's side. "I'm sorry Paul feels that way about me," he said. "I think he did a fabulous job getting the course in shape. I think all the people who have given so much time to get the tournament ready should be congratulated, and I include Paul Erath in that. I've thought the tree should be there for about six months, and the tree was recommended and approved by a number of the members and the tournament committee. That's all I can say about it."
As Arnold and Winnie climbed into the Imperial for the drive home, it was dark and nearly 9 o'clock. They ate and then sat around with friends and talked shop until midnight. If Palmer were to recover tomorrow from the misfortunes of the first two days—particularly those four penalty strokes—it would certainly confirm a statement Winnie had made earlier in the week. "The more confusion there is," she said, "the happier and more relaxed Arnold is."
If any day in this frenetic week of Arnold Palmer's could be considered normal, this one at least started out that way. He was hitting the ball well as he warmed up on the practice tee, and the golf he played during the first part of his round was heartening. But at the 8th, a really badly hit chip shot brought him his first bogey, followed by some sloppy golf and a double-bogey 6 at the 9th. For the first time since the tournament began the Army smelled defeat and began to desert Palmer little by little until it was scarcely more than a corporal's guard.
It has been a long time since Palmer has driven the ball any better than he was doing today. It may have been portentious that after two more birdies on the back nine, the second of two errant drives stopped under a tree. It was almost impossible to hit out. So there was another bogey, and Palmer finally staggered in with a shaky 74.
Back in the clubhouse Palmer slumped in front of his locker and fingered absently through a three-inch stack of mail that was waiting for him. He took off his black golf spikes, put his feet into a pair of black alligator loafers and talked for awhile about the future and the past.
"I haven't played well at all this year," he said, "and yet I don't feel I have been hitting the ball all that badly. Sometimes I am driving well, as I was today, but can't putt. Other times maybe I'm putting well but can't hit my irons. I just can't put it all together at any one time.
"More than anything," he continued, "I need time to think things out. I'm just about through with golf for this year, and I'm going to take the time to get my life better organized. I've just been trying to do too many things, and I can't give the kind of attention to my golf that it really needs. I can't concentrate on it the way I ought to if I'm going to win. I'll spend a lot of time at home, and Winnie and I will probably take a vacation in Florida with friends.
"The trouble is that I know I can still play as well as I have. I was playing the best golf of my life only last year. I can't have gone off that quickly, so it must be in the way I am thinking.
"Sure, there have been a lot of things besides golf to think about this week. It may make it a little harder to concentrate at times, but that isn't the whole trouble. I have hit the ball well at times, but I've made so many stupid shots that I wasn't thinking out properly. Like that chip I made at No. 8 today. I know the green falls away fast there, and still I didn't play the shot right. I want to get over that kind of thing."
Palmer drove home, had a cold beer out of the tap the Palmers keep in their rumpus room and went swimming. Toward dark he returned home, charcoaled a dozen steaks, and was in excellent spirits all evening. But as Winnie put it, "Inside I know he was deeply disappointed, though he didn't want to show it to me or anyone else. He may have been relieved, though. Now he has the time to get the rest he needs."
Arnold Palmer's final round, a 73 giving him 294 for the four days, could be of no consequence either to the tournament or his career. Only his pride was involved, the pride that would come from playing at least one truly fine round of golf during his special week. Palmer's hopes for the PGA championship and his opportunity to reverse the desultory trend of his golf this year died in a mind harried by distractions and obligations, for here is a man who takes his responsibilities as seriously as his golf.
There are those who will say that as Palmer approaches his 36th birthday, he is past his physical peak. This is not necessarily true of a top golfer, whose nervous system is likely to go before the muscles he needs for golf. This week Palmer seemed as fit and strong as he has been in the past half a dozen years of his supremacy. Poorly thought-out shots have been part of his trouble, probably because he was unable to concentrate over long spells. His many other interests—the Arnold Palmer golf clubs and shirts and slacks and balls and laundry and driving ranges and putting courses—always seem with him. (The way he has been expanding, everyone may soon be flying to the moon in an Arnold Palmer rocket and staying in an Arnold Palmer motel overlooking the Arnold Palmer crater.)
Putting has bothered him, too. For years he was the finest putter in golf, and during his wonderful winning streaks he made shots around the green that the other golfers could scarcely believe. Perhaps because of his inability to concentrate, he has been missing ever so slightly.
It is this mental adjustment to his present way of life that is the real key to Palmer's future. He must find a way to divide his attention between his golf and his business—the fruits of his success—that will not sacrifice either. If he can, he may recover his youthful optimism and confidence. Anybody who spends time with Arnold Palmer comes away believing that this magnetic and charming man can do anything. As so many people have said, he is touched with a kind of greatness. Arnie's Army feels it, and that is why it answers the muster. It is hard to believe that he will not regain the poise that abandoned him this year. The PGA demonstrated to Palmer that he must solve the problem now.