Bill Dwyre: Arnold Palmer will never be gone

arnold-palmer-1975.jpgArnold Palmer in 1975.

Arnold Palmer died Sunday, but he will never be gone.

He was eternal long before somebody named ice tea and lemonade for him. So many people, in sports and in life, achieve a great deal and then fade from memory. Arnie will never fade.

In the days ahead, there will be much written. Every word will be deserved and none will be negative. He was flawed because he was human, but no flaws will be documented, or even hinted at. Only the greatest ones deserve that. Even John Wooden, clearly in that greatest category, had his name hitched to Sam Gilbert's when he died, just shy of age 100. If Arnold Palmer had a Sam Gilbert, we are not likely to hear about it.

Things not generally known about Palmer:

--He flew his own airplane, a Citation 10, well into his 80s. And he said he never had a close call.
--He made 19 holes-in-one and remembered best his first. "I was just a kid. It was the second hole at the Latrobe Country Club."
--One of his best friends--and he had thousands of those--was a man named Doc Giffin. Giffin was his spokesperson and the contact you sought out if you were a media person and needed something from Arnie: A quote, an opinion, an appearance at a charity golf event. Palmer undoubtedly picked Giffin to do this work for two reasons, one of them obvious. Giffin was as patient and kind and as much a people person as Palmer. The second was that Arnie couldn't say no to anybody, so Doc was there to turn down your request, always gently and with kind thoughts from Arnold, to your wish to have Arnold fly cross country to speak at your Thursday noon Rotary meeting. "He'd love to be there," Doc would say, "but he feels that he ought to be over at St. Andrews that week, where he will be walking across the Swilcan Bridge for the last time. But try us again in a few months."

I interviewed Arnie several times. If he was in town, you wrote a column. The hell with the Dodgers and Lakers. This was Arnold Palmer.

He remembered my name in later meetings. It is no small thing to have Arnold Palmer greet you by name. The only person I have ever known to be better with names was the former publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Tom Johnson. He would walk through the newsroom and call out names like we were all relatives. Arnie would do the same at cocktail parties and media centers.

My last conversation with Arnie was in November, 2012. I had been invited to play at Augusta National. We played three rounds, then got ready to pack up and head back. It was shortly after noon and it was raining.

I was by myself--my playing friends were still in the gift shop, buying anything sporting an Augusta National logo. I was walking back to our house, in a row of homes along the left side of the 10th fairway.

As you turn on the pathway, there is a huge house on the left. It is the Eisenhower house, where Ike would stay when he played. I was in a hurry, but I glanced left and there, on the porch, sitting alone in a chair, was an elderly man. I did a double take and realized it was Arnie.

My first thought was to keep walking, to not bother him. My next thought was selfish. This was Arnold Palmer, and I might never get another chance to talk to him, one on one. Nor, as it turned out, did I.

He smiled as I walked up. I introduced myself and was interrupted between the first and second name.

"I know who you are," he said.

There was another chair and he told me to have a seat. We chatted about the last time we had talked and he pretended to remember. He never asked how I had managed to get onto those hallowed grounds, much less played there. Others would have. Arnie didn't because just asking would diminish your stature.

He had played a couple of rounds, too, and was just waiting to be picked up to go back home.

"You know, Bill," he said. "I can't break 90 here anymore."

He was 83. He had won the Masters four times.

"Ah, but at least you could," I said. "I didn't and never will."

We talked about Jim Murray, the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist from the Times, deceased by then. We both had our own Murray stories.

Then his ride arrived, we said good bye, and soon I was flying home. To this day, I don't remember if there was an airplane involved.

Bill Dwyre is the retired sports editor and columnist of the Los Angeles Times


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