Arnold Palmer faced cancer with the same bold, aggressive style that made him one of the most popular athletes of his time and - as he has so many times - it looks like he came up a winner.
“It’s like you’ve got a 5-iron in your hand and you’re 180 yards out and have two trees in front of you,” Palmer said Friday about his decision to have his cancerous prostate removed.
“You can pitch it out and hit a wedge or you can go between the trees and not have to hit another shot. I didn’t want to walk around thinking I might still have cancer.”
On the golf course, Palmer always took the shot between the trees in a gambling style that won seven major championships and earned a legion of followers known as Arnie’s Army. He was just as aggressive dealing with cancer.
“The doctor told me my cancer in the prostate was contained,” a tanned and fit-looking Palmer said at Bay Hill Golf Club as he spoke publicly for the first time since cancer surgery at the Mayo Clinic Jan. 15.
“He smiled when he said it,” Palmer said, smiling as well.
Palmer, 67, said he will not be able to swing a golf club for another six weeks but that he plans to return to competitive golf.
“I have every intention of being at Augusta,” Palmer said about the Masters. “I plan to play.”
He said it was less likely he would play in his own tournament at Bay Hill March 20-23. “The last time I haven’t swung a club for six weeks was probably in 1955,” Palmer said.
“I’m under strict orders not to touch a golf club until March 1. I do plan to play competitively again. As for when, it depends on the rate of my recovery and the state of my game.”
Palmer, who last won on the PGA Tour in 1973 and on the Senior Tour in 1988, remains an intense competitor at heart.
Palmer found out he had cancer Jan. 10 while at the Mercedes Championships in Carlsbad, Calif., for the annual PGA Tour awards dinner.
He returned to his home in Florida the next day and piloted his private plane to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., a day later. After a series of tests, he had the surgery.
Palmer said he had been having regular blood tests for prostate cancer for nearly two years and that he had 18 biopsies.
“The last three came up positive,” Palmer said.
“Winnie called me at La Costa,” Palmer said about his wife of 42 years, “and she didn’t have to tell me a thing. I knew from her voice. It didn’t come as a surprise to me.
“I’m happy,” Palmer said with a touch of weariness around his eyes. “I feel very fortunate.”
Palmer said his main discomfort from the surgery was exhaustion late in the day and that the most difficult adjustment was having to take it easy.
He said he was besieged with cards and letters and that one of the reasons he wanted to speak was to thank all those who expressed their concern.
“There is no way in the world I could answer them all,” Palmer said. “But in some way I would like the people to know how much I appreciate it.”
Palmer said one of his thoughts as he faced cancer was of his father, who died at Bay Hill some years ago.
“He played 27 holes of golf on the day he passed away,” Palmer said wistfully. “I would like to do that.”
And if Palmer gets that chance and is faced with a 5-iron from the rough, he probably will take it between the trees.
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