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Ambassador Arnie

April 05, 1999
April 05, 1999

Table of Contents
April 5, 1999

Faces In The Crowd

Ambassador Arnie

A Golfer's Life
by Arnold Palmer, with James Dodson
Ballantine Books, $26.95

This is an article from the April 5, 1999 issue

It may come as a surprise to readers of A Golfer's Life that
Arnie wasn't crazy about Ben Hogan. "He ruled golf like an icy
monarch," Palmer writes. He resented Hogan for never calling him
by name, only "fella." Before the Masters in 1958, Palmer played
a practice round with a group that included Hogan. Palmer was
exhausted after what he remembers as a "bone-wearying" midnight
drive to Augusta, and he played miserably. In the locker room
later he overheard Hogan ask another player, "How the hell did
Palmer get an invitation to the Masters?" Palmer showed him how a
few days later, winning his first of four green jackets.

The book contains dozens of such tidbits. Palmer admits being
embarrassed when he is referred to as the King. Ambassador, he
feels, is more like it. He recalls earning his first money from
golf at age seven, when a Mrs. Fitz at Latrobe (Pa.) Country
Club, where his father was the head pro, offered him a nickel
"to hit my ball over that ditch." When he was 16, his father,
Deacon, whom he called Pap and whom he adored, had too much to
drink one evening and started berating Palmer's mother, Doris.
When Palmer interceded, Pap lifted him off the ground by his
shirt and slammed him into a stovepipe. But it was his father
who gave him his most important golf lesson. "Hit the ball
hard," Pap told Arnie early on. "Go find the ball, boy, and hit
it hard again."

In 1951 Palmer, grieving over the death of his best friend--Wake
Forest teammate Bud Worsham, in a car crash--left college during
his senior year and enlisted in the Coast Guard. To his regret he
never finished his degree. After his service he got a job selling
paint in Cleveland. He would call on clients in the morning and
then join his boss for lunch at the club, where the two would
play golf.

Winning the U.S. Amateur in 1954, writes Palmer, "was the
turning point in my life." Shortly afterward he met Winifred
Walzer, married her, turned pro and joined the PGA Tour. At
first the Palmers pulled a small trailer behind their car, as
many touring pros of that era did. Palmer earned his first pro
victory at the 1955 Canadian Open and over the next five years
became not only the best golfer in the world but also arguably
the nation's most exciting athlete. He hooked up with a lawyer
named Mark McCormack, whose astute management of the young
golfer led to the creation of Arnold Palmer Enterprises and made
Palmer a multimillionaire. It is therefore surprising to read,
late in the book, that "Mark and I have grown somewhat apart"
over the last 20 years.

In and around these anecdotes are, of course, the familiar: the
U.S. Open charge at Cherry Hills in '60, visits with Ike, the
'62 Open playoff with Jack Nicklaus, the back-to-back British
Open wins, Bay Hill and, alas, prostate cancer. But there could
hardly be a Palmer book without these things, and taken as a
whole, A Golfer's Life easily makes the cut.

--Walter Bingham

COLOR PHOTO: BALLANTINE BOOKS