Sitting on my desk at home is a golf program.
It contains a couple of signatures. One of them belongs to Jim Dent, a pretty good journeyman golfer known in his day as a big hitter off the tee.
The other signature belongs to The King of golf, Arnold Daniel Palmer.
Arnie died today at the age of 87. Man, I am sad tonight.
Here’s my Arnie story that I want to share in remembrance of one of my favorite all-time athletes, who ranks with Mickey Mantle, Muhammad Ali and Mario Andretti as sporting icons I used to root for over many years.
I traveled to Orlando, Fla., in October 1981. My late aunt and uncle — Tom and Verna Kanelis — lived there at the time. Tom was an avid golfer and I played a couple rounds of golf with him while visiting them in central Florida.
One evening, he asked me if I wanted to see the World Team Championship at the Walt Disney World. “Arnold Palmer is going to be there,” he said. “Are you kidding? Absolutely!” I answered.
We drove to the Disney resort the next day. Tom had gotten a couple of tickets to watch the first round of golf.
We went to the practice tee where — son of a gun! — there was Arnie hitting practice shots on the driving range alongside Jim Dent.
I asked Dent to sign my program after he was done hitting some tee shots. He did so with a smile and was a terrific gentleman. Then we waited for Palmer.
Arnie finished hitting his practice balls and walked off the tee to a small gaggle of fans.
You hear about superstars who are aloof. Some of them refuse to sign autographs. Arnie was neither. He was friendly, engaging and as he signed his name to the documents thrust toward him, he took a moment to talk to us individually.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” I recall him asking me. “Have fun out there,” he said. I recall telling him I planned to walk the course among the fans accompanying him and his playing partner, Larry Nelson. “Have a great time,” he said.
OK. My story isn’t unique. It’s like perhaps thousands of stories that other golf fans — and Arnie fans — can tell. I want to share it here as my way of conveying that this guy was the real deal.
He truly was golf’s greatest ambassador. He was an everyman who happened to play a hell of a great game of golf.
Another great golfer, Jack Nicklaus, said this: “At this point I don’t know what happened, and I suppose it is not important what happened. What is important is that we just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports.”
There you have it.
Rest in peace, Arnie. You surely gave this fan one of the great thrills of his life.