An Arnold Palmer Reminisce

Arnold Palmer’s passing is the biggest golf story of the year. There are articles today in every newspaper about who he was and what he meant to the game. I won’t go over any of that. This post is about my personal recollections.

A number of years ago I posted my story about the one time I met him, when I was ten years old, getting his autograph. That was the start.

The Golden Age of Sport was whenever you were between the ages of about nine and fourteen. You’re old enough to know what’s going on, and young enough to still have heroes. That’s exactly where I was during Palmer’s rise, and he was my hero. I reveled in his victories. When he lost the 1966 U.S. Open I was despondent for days.

All my friends I golfed with liked him best. Really — who else was there to have as a favorite compared to the likes of Arnold Palmer?

Yes, he was charismatic. Yes, he was telegenic. But he was more than that. We learned (eventually) to admire Jack Nicklaus. We respected Gary Player. But Arnie was one of us. He never hid himself from us. The more attention he got from his fans, the more he thrived. The phenomenon of Arnie’s Army has never been duplicated — no other golfer has ever commanded than kind of attention. For a while there was Jack’s Pack, but it never got off the ground like the Army did.

In an time when most Tour pros had an idiosynchratic, home-grown golf swing that was recognizable two fairways away, Palmer’s was the the most recognizable and the most exciting. He didn’t swing at the ball, he attacked it, forcing it go where he wanted. Though a long hitter, he wasn’t that long, but he was very straight. The shots he took that looked like gambles generally weren’t. He knew he could pull it off and he did.

In the really 1960s Palmer won many times each year. It was said once that your tournament wasn’t a real success unless Arnie won it. How he won was exciting, too. It seems no other golfer could withstand his onslaught once he put his mind to winning.

But if that’s all there had been, he wouldn’t have been The King. It was his touch with people. A nicer man never walked the Earth. His warmth and charisma touched people on a personal level. His fondness for people was genuine. Given his status, he could have been anything he wanted, but in the end he never retreated from treating everyone he met with courtesy and respect, as if it were his honor to have met you.

We’ve had lots of good golfers over the years. But there has been only one Arnold Palmer. Long live The King.

Make More Short Putts

Short putts are between two feet and four feet long. There is no reason you can’t sink them at professional rates. Here are four ideas on how to meet that standard.

1. Practice them. Hit putts from two to four feet over and over again. You can do this at home every day on a carpet. Hit ten putts or so. That will take you two minutes, tops. Put your putter down, come back a half hour later, and hit ten more. Repeat every half hour.

This is the “little and often” method that is used so effectively in foreign language learning. Do a little bit, but repeat it often.

2. Putt at an object. Do you have a water bottle that is about four inches in diameter? You can get one at an outdoor store.

In my first book, Better Recreational Golf, I suggested that you putt at a positive object rather than a negative hole. Putt to hit the water bottle. It is so easy you just can’t miss.

You’re training your mind to see a bottle rather than a hole. When you play, hit the ball against the imaginary bottle, and the ball goes in the hole, simple as that.

3. Start the putter back slowly, gradually. By starting the stroke very slowly you keep the putter under control. The face stays square, the putter goes straight back and naturally comes straight through.

There’s no need to rush your short putting stroke. On the other hand, don’t be deliberate. The entire stroke doesn’t need to be slow, just the start.

4. Take the putter straight back and bring it straight through. This keeps the putter’s face square at all times. The short putting stroke is short enough that you can do that without having to manipulate the club.

Don’t Let One Bad Hole Get You Down

You’re cruising and up comes a blow-up hole. The round is trashed. For the rest of the day you can’t get over what happened.

The mistake is that you were thinking about how well you have been playing up that point, and getting an inflated opinion of your true ability. You forget that even though your game can get you around the course looking pretty good for a while, it’s not so good that an X can’t pop out every now and then.

In golf, you get what you deserve. If you go fairway, green, putt, putt, you deserve that because you’re good enough to have earned it. Sometimes you get into a situation you just aren’t skilled enough to handle, and you deserve the score you get there, too. You have to accept your weaknesses along with your strengths.

So, when you write a few pars on your scorecard, don’t think you have become a par golfer all of a sudden. Learn how to write “par” on the scorecard when you get one, and then forget about it. That hole is over. Once you can do that, you can write an X on your scorecard and forget about that, too, and go back to enjoying yourself.