His handshake is firm, like a coal miner’s. His memory razor-sharp. When Arnold Palmer reaches out to take your hand it is swallowed in a meaty grip. It is the firm and assured handshake of a young man.
But time marches on even for “The King”, although on occasion it can stand still at Augusta National Golf Club as it did early yesterday when an aged Palmer launched the 77th Masters with a ceremonial opening tee shot.
Golf fans see what they want to see, and in the chill of an overcast morning they came to catch a glimpse of the past as much as the present. Standing on the first tee, the 83-year-old golf legend smartly attired in red sweater and grey slacks struck a solid blow up the middle as “Arnie’s Army” cheered.
“I still enjoy getting out but my game is not good. It’s bad,” said Palmer. “I hit balls. I enjoy going out and hitting golf balls and that’s what I do most of the time.”
And for decades Palmer did it better than almost anyone else, winning 62 career PGA Tour titles, including four Green Jackets as Masters champion.
Palmer competed in 50 Masters tournaments before ending his Augusta career in 2004, and right up until signing off with a final-round 84 believed he could win every time he teed it up at the year’s first major.
“I thought I could win it every time I played in it,” said Palmer. “I did. I enjoyed Augusta very much and was fortunate enough to win it four times but always felt I should have won it at least four more times.”
Palmer remains as much a part of Augusta as Green Jackets. He arrived on the scene just as television was becoming a fixture in every American home.
With leading man good looks and a swashbuckling daring style, Palmer became one of sport’s first crossover celebrities. But even at the height of his fame, he never came under the type of crushing scrutiny that top golfers like Tiger Woods deal with today.
“Was it easier? Well it was simpler,” said Palmer. “It wasn’t the complicated issues we see occasionally now but I think that will all pass. I think it’s a fad and it will go away if we can just do what we need to do and that’s just remember where the game came from and how it’s played.”