FIT FOR A KING? ARNOLD PALMER HAD TO PLAY WITH HOI POLLOI, BUT HE STILL GOT THE ROYAL TREATMENT

April 20, 1997

Once, some years ago, when Arnie was the man and Tiger Woods was
not yet born, the King was routinely paired with the elite
golfers of his day, Billy Casper and Jack Nicklaus and Gary
Player. These days, Arnold Palmer is Augusta's most celebrated
tour guide. At the Masters this year, in his 43rd consecutive
appearance in the event, Palmer played the first round with
Warren Bladon, the reigning British Amateur champion, a
30-year-old former bartender who took a decade to decide to get
married and just as long to decide to turn pro, which he did the
day after last week's tournament ended. On Thursday, in the
opener, Bladon took 79 strokes while Palmer, recovering from
cancer surgery and 67 years old, needed 10 more. Palmer's score
was his worst ever at Augusta and the worst of the day. It
earned him the right to play in Friday morning's first game, in
which he was paired with Mr. Kenneth J. Green of West Palm
Beach, Fla., who had shot the second-highest score on Thursday,
87. Within the manicured confines of Augusta National, Palmer is
considered the game's most revered living figure. As for Ken
Green--who has often referred to Augusta's greens as "a joke,"
and who has bragged about sneaking friends into the
tournament--he's thought to be just the opposite. It was an
interesting pairing.

Palmer, with his silver hair and bronzed neck, has never looked
more handsome. Friday morning at 20 past eight, in the
glistening sunshine, he stood on the 1st tee wearing white
shoes, a white glove, a white visor; pleated, made-to-measure,
coffee-colored trousers; a cashmere V-neck sweater of a hue (a
cross between tangerine and coral) that only a true star could
pull off; and a white polo shirt made of the finest cotton, the
top two buttons ignored. He wore no ads.

Green's 38 years have not been as kind. His two marriages have
ended in divorce, and the millions he earned in his brief period
of excellence have evaporated. He takes medication to combat
depression. Since his heyday eight years ago, his face has
become rounder and his glasses have become thicker, his hair has
become thinner, and his public pronouncements (by golf's tame
standards) have become more outrageous. He gained entry into the
Masters by virtue of his tie for seventh in last year's U.S.
Open. On Friday morning, Green was wearing sneakers with spikes,
a blue sweatshirt and a hat bearing two logos. When Palmer
extended a hand--"Nice to see you," he said at their first
meeting ever--Green, for maybe the only time in his life, had
nothing to say. He nodded, he stammered. For a brief moment he
stood in awe.

Over the course of the round, a friendship, of a sort,
developed. That's golf, and that's Palmer, too. Palmer asked
Green whether he had his Tour card, and Green acknowledged that
he no longer did. Palmer told Green that he should write to
tournament sponsors and ask for exemptions. He was offering
counsel, and Green was accepting it. They played with little
fuss but full effort, and when Palmer duffed shots, Green did
the most polite thing he could do. He said nothing. The rest of
the time, he kept things light. When Palmer pulled out the
flagstick himself on the 7th green, with his looper raking sand,
Green said to the King, "Caddie, give me a line here." Palmer
laughed.

Probably a thousand spectators--Arnie's Army (ret.)--followed
the fast-moving twosome through the back nine. When Palmer
stubbed a chip or hit a line drive into a water hazard or took
two swipes from a bunker, the gallery murmured sounds not of
sympathy, but of understanding. Palmer was playing shots like an
ordinary golfer, and he and his fans were bonding as never before.

The day before, when Palmer played with Bladon, the atmosphere
had been completely different. The course was so firm and fast
it was like playing down a long corridor in a modern high
school. At one point, Palmer added a stroke to his card for
hitting a ball while it was moving, and later a gallery member
raised the question of whether Palmer had grounded his club, for
if he hadn't there would be no penalty. "Whether I shoot 84 or
85, it doesn't really matter," Palmer said resignedly while
walking up the 17th fairway.

Bladon, who shot seven over but was even par in the second round
to miss the cut by two, was nervous about playing with Palmer,
and his respect for Arnie was obvious. When they stood on a tee
talking, waiting for a fairway to clear, Bladon removed his
space-age, wrap-around sunglasses so that the two men could look
one another in the eye. "It's not nice to say this, but playing
with Arnold, I felt like I was playing with anyone," Bladon
said. Bladon must be a genius. He captured Palmer's whole legacy
in a sentence. Palmer is the ultimate everyman, at ease downing
a pint with Tip Anderson, his St. Andrews caddie, in a pub on
High Street, or having a highball with President Bush aboard Air
Force One.

One place Palmer has never had a libation, though, is on the
Augusta National course during the Masters. Never even heard of
it happening, until this year. It wasn't Bladon. Bladon gave up
drinking when he started pouring beers for a living and saw the
colossal amount of time being wasted on the other side of the
bar. It was Green who showed Palmer new tricks.

As Green came off the 15th tee, a friend gave him a beer. Green
made a toast to Palmer, who was striding well ahead, then downed
his late-morning refreshment. When he caught up with Palmer he
said, "I always wanted to have a beer with you, and I figured
this would be my only chance."

To which Palmer replied, "Why didn't you bring one for me?"

Palmer's sensibility is rural, German-Scottish, pre-World War
II, stolid. Green is suburban, Irish, postwar, clever. Except
for the game they share, they could not be more different. But
that's a considerable exception. When Palmer approached the 18th
green, making his little cupped-hand wave to his fans, Green got
out of his way. When the round was over and the two men shook
hands, Green said, "Thank you." His choice of words was perfect.
Both men had improved from the previous day. Palmer shot 87,
Green 74.

As he came out of the scorer's tent, a little group of reporters
encircled Green, as they often do, for Green is always good for
a quote. Green talked about how he had always idolized Palmer,
how he didn't get drunk after his opening-round 87 because he
didn't want to play hungover the next day with Palmer. He talked
about Palmer's charisma, about how responsible Palmer is for the
modern professional game. He talked about how you never know
what a legendary player is like until you play with them. Arnold
Palmer met, Ken Green said, his every expectation.

Two disparate men spent three hours together amicably. That
doesn't mean either man was changed. As Green was heading toward
the clubhouse after his round, his girlfriend asked him about
his afternoon plans. "I'm going to go out on the course and
follow f------ Jose [Maria Olazabal] around," Green said,
balling up a fist. "Easy, Ken, easy," somebody said. Green
looked at his girlfriend, and his face turned from anger to
sorrow in the blink of an eye. His round with Arnold Palmer was
over, and Green had to again face the rest of his life.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Arnold Palmer] COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK While Green (top) lifted a glass to honor Palmer, Bladon made it a point simply to raise his glasses. [Ken Green playing golf] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [See caption above--Warren Bladon waving]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)