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Rediff.com  » Sports » Arnold Palmer, the king... 50 years after his final Masters' victory

Arnold Palmer, the king... 50 years after his final Masters' victory

April 10, 2014 10:17 IST

Arnold Palmer, the king... 50 years after his final Masters' victory

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Siddharth Shriram

Arnold Palmer essentially said while he was right in the mix at several majors, probably some deep psychological reasons sapped his ambition to cross the hill and win. May be he sub consciously felt that he had won enough. Wishing to win and willing to win are quite different.

Palmer would warn Tiger about his own syndrome of losing ambition and perhaps thereby not winning; Tiger will have to be wary of such thoughts.

Emerging from the press facility having just accessed my reporter credentials, I strolled down the first hole and up to the great oak tree, breathing in the pleasant, warm, pine scented air that came stealing over the sunshine soaked fairways. Experiencing the sheer joy of being alive at this instant, one felt that one had died and gone to heaven. Yet again, the exquisite canvas of the myriad shades of green lined so effortlessly by unmatchable nature, was a joy to behold for those who took the time and trouble to get away, even if momentarily, from the events surrounding the contest that was about to begin in just a few hours.

Aside for the dramatic ailment-induced absence of the world number one, the ice storms caused by a rare descent into the deep South of the US of a Polar Vortex from its natural habitat of Northern Canada or Siberia, struck even the otherwise impregnable Augusta National Golf Course. The casualty, aside from assorted other loblolly pines and flora, was the historic and fabled Eisenhower tree some 200 yards down the 17th fairway.

This remarkable tree had of course troubled many a not-so-long hitting professional golfer but the then President Eisenhower it seemed to possess magical magnetic properties of attracting his drive into its meshes so often that he campaigned actively with the club committees to have it put down, as it were.

They declined (unlike some club committees, in an unnamed country that had acquiesced to pressure from an international event manager to cut some protruding branches off a tree because "they caught drives off the tee"!) thereby creating this abiding story; but nature, some 60 years later, seems to have heard those requests and despite the ministrations of the most erudite and experienced arborists, this magnificent tree is no more. Surely, soon, a memorial will be prepared for this doughty challenger to the might of the President of the United States.

Walking past where this tree had been, I followed the reason for an appreciative roar from the spectators and saw Arnold Palmer being driven through the adoring masses towards the Press Interview facility. Hastening there, I just made it into the crowded chamber and, together with all those present, was regaled by many thoughts, observations and stories from the King that bear reporting to you.


Image: Arnold Palmer walks off a green during the 2014 Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club
Photographs: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

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Arnold Palmer, the king... 50 years after his final Masters' victory

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In 1955, he arrived with his wife in a trailer which he parked near some old railway tracks, to play his very first Masters. He said he was excited as hell, scared to death but was having great fun playing on this golf course which has always been manufactured to perfection. He figures that the many ‘first timers’ this year will be feeling no different.

The biggest thrill was just to be here, to play and compete at Augusta at the Masters... and to finish in the top 10! Of his four Masters victories, three were ‘squeakers’, meaning that the outcome was uncertain right up to the very end, and only his fourth Masters victory, which incidentally was the last of his seven professional Major titles, was ‘comfortable’ as he walked down the 18th on the final day with a six shot cushion.

Asked why he did not win a major after that, he essentially said while he was right in the mix at several majors, probably some deep psychological reason sapped his ambition to cross the hill and win. May be he sub consciously felt that he had won enough. Wishing to win and willing to win are quite different.

Asked what he thought of Tiger's future chances, he frankly observed that some of the opinions that are floating around on this vexed subject are worthless. He feels strongly that if Tiger worked at staying strong and healthy, there is absolutely no earthly reason in the world why Tiger will not make a strong come back to achieve the thing in golf he wants the most - to cross Jack Nicklausâ's record of 18 Majors. He would warn Tiger about his own syndrome of losing ambition and perhaps thereby not winning; Tiger will have to be wary of such thoughts.


Image: Arnold Palmer walks off a green during the 2014 Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2014 Masters Tournament
Photographs: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

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Arnold Palmer, the king... 50 years after his final Masters' victory

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The King is most impressed with how the young professionals are playing and they are only just over twenty years old. The distances that they drive, the adventurism of spectacular shot making when required, their exquisite physical conditioning and their mental balance in gracefully accepting a loss or tearfully and humbly clutching their victories somehow startles, surprises and pleases him very much. Sometimes, however, he felt that they seemed to concentrate more on the long ‘hero’ putts and not so much on the terrific importance of the testing three to five footers.

Now, turning to the zestful champions dinner, he reminisced that it was Ben Hogan's idea which quickly became a revered tradition. In those days, there were only about 12 persons present each year and they used to joke that this was just the perfect number. However, now there are 30 or more at the grand dinner and it makes remembering the victories of greats such as Snead, Hogan, Sayers, DeMaret, and others more difficult.

To end this scintillating interview, he was asked how long did he intend to keep being the Honorary Starter to the Masters. Smiling, and clearly delighted, he answered that to nominate a starter is the prerogative of the Chairman of the club, but if he is invited, even if he has to crawl to get there, he would not miss it for the world! And there folks, through the eyes and ears and experience of the King, is the Masters for you.


Image: Arnold Palmer of the USA lines up a putt
Photographs: Don Morley/Getty Images

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