With a smile and a wink

Arnold Palmer in Dayton

By Marc Katz


One of Dayton’s extraordinary golf writers, Bucky Albers, says he can count four times Arnold Palmer visited Dayton, and that doesn’t include his play in the old Kroger Senior Classic in nearby Mason.

Albers, a long-time sports writer for the Dayton Journal-Herald and The Dayton Daily News, covered most of Palmer’s visits and several more at other golf venues, including 15 Masters.

He was a little young to cover Palmer’s first visit, though, in 1963, when Palmer played in a one-day exhibition at Meadowbrook Country Club.

PGA golfers did exhibitions in those days when prize money didn’t pay the bills the way it does today.

He was already a star by then. He had won three Masters, two British Opens, and a U.S. Open by the time he arrived at Meadowbrook, and everybody in the crowd, estimated at 2,200-3,000, knew it.

He was the top golfer to usher in the television age, doing so with an attacking swing not found on the tutorial tapes, a smile and a wink.

He mostly didn’t talk about how great he was. He let others do the talking. He shot a 70 in that Meadowbrook round, drove the first tee—which nobody at the club at the time could do—then apologized.

“I wish I could have hit the ball better and given them a better show,” Palmer said.

Then, he was off to play at one of his local miniature golf courses and crown a national putting queen.

He was a gentleman at both stops, the newspapers said.

I know, Palmer made a lot of money doing endorsements. He pitched motor oil, for heavens sake, and the motor oil flourished. His business manager Mark McCormack made him a lot of money. His publicist Doc Giffin made him a lot of friends.

So, let me ask you: if those two helpers were so good, and there were other golfers around who could play a little better than Palmer, why didn’t McCormack and Giffin move on to some of those other guys? And, why do all the people calculating which golfer is the all-time money winner always put Palmer near the top? (Only Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are believed to have made more money off the field than Palmer when it comes to sports celebrities.)

“He was a great golfer and a better man,” Albers said.

I’ve met a lot of greats in sports, and some not-so-greats. I told you a couple weeks ago how much I admired outfielder Jay Bruce, in part because of his demeanor. Bruce, though, probably isn’t going into baseball’s Hall of Fame. He’s a step or two behind someone such as Palmer. Even other Hall of Fame athletes are a step behind Palmer.

The greatest of the greats are different, not only from you and me, but from other athletes in their specialty. I’m talking about the guys they call GOATs, or Greatest Of All Time.

There will be no argument here to call Arnold Palmer the greatest golfer of all time, at least not based on his record.

He’s in the conversation, but even if you eliminate everyone else, you’re going to bump into Jack Nicklaus and Woods at some point.

But if you’re going to look at the overall picture, what he did for the sport, how he acted along the way, the superiority of his personality, well, you’re not going to get around the guy other golfers called The King.

One of the reasons all-time greats often shrug off their fans or flip their wide smiles into frowns once the bright media lights are shut off is because being an all-timer can be all-time consuming.

I mean everyone wants you, all of you, all the time. Arnold Palmer never seemed to be bothered by that.

Albers mentioned he signed all his autographs so people could read them. He shook hands and looked people in the eye. He didn’t brush off press conferences when they were warranted, and more than a few that were not.

The two times I was lucky enough to be in his company, he was absolutely delightful. The first time was at the Kroger Senior Classic in Mason, when he was asked to participate to help elevate the crowd.

On the first day, he was paired with Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, the first time that pairing ever happened in competition. Palmer was 61 then, or 10 years older than Nicklaus or Trevino.

“I was looking forward to today with hopes I would played better than I did,” Palmer said. “We started out playing like it was an exhibition, but that didn’t mean we weren’t serious. At one point, I felt like I was 20 years younger.”

He shot a 76 (Nicklaus 71, Trevino 68), a score he never would have shot if he were 20 years younger, except it didn’t matter to the crowd.

Terry Dill, Dudley Wysong, Dale Douglass, and Al Geiberger led the field after the first day, each with a 66.

Who would you rather see hit a golf ball?

In 2005, Palmer played in the Senior Open at NCR, again as a guy who would help the crowd after Nicklaus unexpectedly dropped out. He didn’t shoot well that day either, but was pleased to stop and answer some questions on his way to sign his scorecard.

It didn’t matter that he knew some of the writers and not others. He answered questions from wherever they came.

Who doesn’t like a guy like that?

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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