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Arnold Palmer

The King will be 80 in September

Posted Mar 30, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece

Arnold palmer

                Looking at television images of Arnold Palmer at his tournament at Bay Hill over the weekend, it was difficult to imagine it being 49 years since he experienced links golf for the first time, and that he had to battle cancer as recently as 1997.  In fact The King will be 80 on September 10th.                

                When we met a few years ago at The K Club, prior to the Ryder Cup, I reminded him of his arrival at Portmarnock in 1960 as Sam Snead's partner in the Canada Cup.  As it happened, he was a replacement for original choice, Ben Hogan, who chose not to make the journey at that stage of his life. So, as the reigning US Open champion, Palmer stood in for his first tournament on links terrain before going on to the Centenary Open at St Andrews.

                 "Sam and I handled it fairly well, as I remember," he said modestly of their splendid triumph. "But when you love the game as much as I did, it was a new experience which fell right into place.  I remember being  devastated in 1954 when, after winning the US Amateur, I found I wouldn't be able to play in the British Amateur or the Walker Cup team.

                  "I couldn't afford it. I had no money.  I had gone to Wake Forest on a full scholarship _ my books, tuition and room and board. And there wasn't money for any frills."  So, the Canada Cup was the first time he represented his country in team golf.

                   His love of people is legendary and it delivered one particular dividend he could never have imagined. It had its beginnings at Troon in 1962 where, in his moment of triumph in defence of the Open Championship, he found time to sign an autograph for a 10-year-old Glaswegian by the name of Ian Hay.  It was such a charming moment that a photograph was used on the front page of a Glasgow evening newspaper.

                 By an astonishing turn of events, Hay grew up to become a doctor, eventually finding his way to the famous Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  It was there that he acted as Palmer's so-called quarter-back, 35 years after their meeting at Troon.

                 "When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, my wife and daughter went with me to the Mayo Clinic and we met Ian Hay," he explained.  "And he became my quarter-back, which is a term I use.  If you go to a clinic it's nice to have a man who watches everything you do.  And Ian got me to the right doctor and then watched what happened when I was there being operated on.

                 "And when I got out, he kept track of my progress with my local doctor.  So I always say he's the best quarter-back in the league.  He's an internal medicine man who knows the right people to treat your particular complaint.  I had a check-up recently and I believe everything is OK.  And let's hope I can say the same about future meetings with Ian.

                 "That's part of why I have had so much good fortune in my life.  Because I talk to people. I find if you're nice to people, it always comes back to you, one way or another."   That particular point gained rich emphasis in a charming interview done with Jason Gore at Bay Hill last weekend, when he talked of Palmer's kindness to him on a visit the player made to Latrobe (Palmer's home course), being a huge factor in his choosing the career of a tournament professional.

                 When considering The King's incalculable contribution to tournament golf, it seems that his legacy was already determined as far back as that fateful July day at Troon in 1962.  That was when his great friend, Pat Ward-Thomas, who was then the golf correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, paid him this beautiful tribute.

                "In technique, attitude and manner, he makes some of his famous rivals seem puny," he wrote.  "Palmer's presence has brought greatness once more to the old Championship.  It has inspired others to compete and has set a new standard which can only benefit all who follow."  And remarkably, he's still doing it.

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