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Golf still waiting for next Palmer

Wed., March 25, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. – The aging, yellow Lab named Mulligan stretched out on the carpet next to the office door at Bay Hill and didn’t move except to lift his eyelids when footsteps disrupted his morning nap.

Suddenly, he lifted his head and staggered to all fours, wagging his tail when he heard a familiar voice coming up the stairs.

Arnold Palmer climbed the final few steps and smiled at his dog.

For more than 50 years, Palmer has made everyone around him feel better.

That’s why he’s the King.

And that’s why he is more relevant than ever in the world of the golf. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is asking players to be more aware of how good they have it. He wants them to be reminded that they essentially are working for the corporate sponsors writing the checks and for the fans behind the ropes, both of whom make it all possible.

Last week, tour officials posted a notice on the bulletin board in the locker room at the Transitions Championship. “Please remember to thank the CEO of this week’s event,” it read. “Cards have been placed in your lockers for your convenience.”

Anyone think Palmer needed a reminder like that?

Brad Faxon remembers the first time he played with Palmer. It was his rookie season in 1984 at The Players Championship, and when the announcer began to introduce Faxon by saying, “In his first year on tour,” Palmer mocked surprise as if the announcer were talking about him. The gallery roared with laughter.

Even more memorable about that day was what Palmer said to him as they walked off the first tee.

“He said, ‘If you want to have an impact, be sure to look every fan in the eye,’ ” Faxon said.

With his power and charisma and sheer passion for the game, Palmer was responsible for bringing golf to the masses a half-century ago. He won his first Masters the year it was first televised. No other athlete has remained more relevant in retirement.

Palmer is the host this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, making him one of only two players to have a PGA Tour named after him (Byron Nelson is the other). He last competed in an official event in 2006, but he will play in the pro-am today, and four amateurs will have a day they won’t forget.

The defending champion at Bay Hill is Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation, well on his way to winning more PGA Tour events and major championships than anyone.

Palmer is golf’s greatest ambassador. Woods might be its greatest player.

Finchem is asking players to do more for the tour, for the fans and for the sponsors. Woods has said he will do his part, but the details were vague until word began to leak about a private function Monday at Isleworth. Woods hosted a breakfast and a clinic for a dozen or so CEOs of companies that are PGA Tour title sponsors.

“He did something extra that he was asked to do,” Rocco Mediate said. “And when your No. 1 player says, ‘OK,’ that’s cool.”

The best thing for golf would be the arrival of another Arnold Palmer.

Especially if his name were Tiger Woods.

Tags: golf

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