Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy Birthday to the King

If you follow the golf world at all, you are probably aware that Arnold Palmer turned 80 years young on September 10th. As hard as it is for me to believe he is 80, it is harder still for me to believe it was 28 years ago this summer that I went to work for him at Bay Hill. When a guest of the United States Golf Academy sees some of the pictures on my office wall of the two of us, their first question is always the same: “What was it like working for him?” So as an answer to that question and my way of a birthday tribute to him, I thought I would share a couple of personal stories.

Mondays were practice days for Arnold and my day off. I knew if he was home, I could expect a phone call at around 9:30a.m., asking what my plans were for the day. In all my years of working for him, I never missed a practice day, but he always called and he always asked, just like every time was the first time. He never assumed or took anything for granted. So we would spend Mondays together. He would hit a few and then ask what I thought. If I offered some advice, his reply was always the same: “Why?” It took me awhile to realize that it was his way of teaching me. If I offered a thought on what he was working on, I had better be prepared to explain myself. Even today, when I give a lesson, I am always sure to know why I am offering the advice. So I share that advice with you. Never try something new with your swing without a clear and sensible reason why, and if the source of the advice can’t answer the question, don’t try it.

Those who know me well have been subjected to hundreds of Arnold stories. But my favorite is one that is very recent. As part of his birthday celebration, the Pittsburgh Pirates had Mr. Palmer throw out the first pitch at a recent game. I saw him on television and so I called his office the next day to leave him a birthday message and congratulate him on looking good on the throw. His secretary Gina accepted the congratulations for him, and shared that he had been practicing on making a good pitch for a couple of months. At 80 years old and with all his accomplishments, the King is still working to make his best effort, and for those paying attention, still teaching.

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