Last week, on the day of the memorial service for Arnold Palmer, the Golf Channel spent almost the entire day on tribute broadcasting. The centerpiece was airing the service itself -- as did ESPN -- but they also had several documentaries on Palmer. One was four parts, I believe, called Arnie, and it was spectacular. Magnificently done. And about much more than golf, but other parts of his life that were just as meaningful and moving, including his monumental business endeavors (including, I had no idea, helping start the Golf Channel itself), charity work and building hospitals. There was also an hour-long documentary, Arnie & Me, which was people re-telling their experiences crossing paths with Palmer. I had intended to skip that -- as I had when it initially aired a year or so ago -- but I decided to check in. And boy was I glad -- it was quite amazing.
The documentary had access to all these people, in part, because Palmer was just a Good Guy, concerned about fans he dealt with (always staying after and during tournaments to sign autographs for every single person who wanted one) that he kept every fan letter that had ever been sent to him!
It all was remarkable and powerfully moving. The whole day, and catching up with the shows I recorded for later. I always had known that Palmer had a good reputation and was well-liked. I had absolutely no idea how much he was idolized by his fellow-golfers -- not shabby under any condition, but for someone considered among the all-time greatest players, that speaks volumes. Oddly, only about a week before he passed away at the age of 87 did I have an inkling of how beloved he was by other plays: as I mentioned recently, I happen to be in the middle of reading the book, A Fine Walk Spoiled (a line by Mark Twain about golf) written by John Feinstein who followed pro golfers on the PGA tour for a year. There's a section on Arnold Palmer, and it was there that I first had my eyes opened (why so belatedly, I have no idea) about how much other golfers adored him. And then after watching hours and hours and hours of material from that tribute day, I'm so sorry it took me until now to find out -- but am I ever glad I did.
I can't describe all the stories that got covered (which is only a toe in the water), but two will stand out. Oddly, since so many of the stories were of course from non-golfers, just "everyday folk" whose lives Palmer actually touched (including people who had babies delivered at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Florida where lives were saved -- because Palmer had seen the existing hospital and said, "We can do better"), these two stories were told by pro-golfers...but not about when they played, but when they were little children. I choose them not because they're necessarily The Best Stories (though they're up there), but are indicative of so many others.
The first was former golfer, and later popular TV analyst Roger Maltbie. When he was about 10 years old, he went to a tournament, but got separated from his parents and could find him. During play, Arnold Palmer spotted him and asked what was wrong. (That alone is impressive...) When the little Maltbie told him, he said that Palmer replied, "Here, come with me. When you're walking down the course with me, your parents are sure to spot you." And no long after, indeed they did, and the family was reunited.
The other was told by pro golfer Bobby Clampett. When he was a little boy of around 12, he attended the Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He had been able to get to the tournament, but when it was over, he had no way of getting home. After the round was over, he saw Palmer and went up to him. He explained his dilemma and...asked Arnold Palmer if he could get a ride with him to take him home. Palmer said sure. And drove him home!
Those were just two of the stories. They were enough by themselves. But it went on for hours. When I said it was powerfully moving and that I was in awe, I mean it. I think you can see why.
I wish I could embed the two documentaries, but I've looked and they're not available for that, only short clips. So, this below will have to suffice for now.
This is just a small part of the memorial service (which is available on YouTube in full, about two hours, or broken into six parts). Feel free to watch this particular section in its entirety (it's only about a half hour), but most people will want to jump to the 15:15 mark. The speaker is none other than Jack Nicklaus, Palmer's long-time rival and later dear friend of almost 60 years. (They met and played together 58 years to the day that Palmer passed away.) It's a moving, hilarious, wonderful speech that lasts about 15 minutes and flies by and you wish it would go on and on and on.
I have one more tremendous video from the memorial which I'll post later. But for here, here is Jack Nicklaus remember the great Arnold Palmer. Even if you done follow golf, do watch this. If you don't follow golf, the shots of those in attendance will not have much meaning, but just know the room is full of pro golfers who came to Latrobe,Pennsylvania to honor the man.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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