When Mr. Palmer talked, we listened: the AP interviews
A highlight of producing every issue of Kingdom during Arnold Palmer’s life was the opportunity to interview him on a range of subjects. Here are some highlights from the archives
Arnold Palmer’s welcome to readers in Issue 1
I’d love to meet every last one of you and talk about all things golf. Obviously that would be impossible so Kingdom is not only my way of being able to say “Hi” to you all, but also to thank you for your support and for allowing me to keep on doing what I enjoy most.
If there is one regret?
I guess the one moment I wish I could relive would be when I went to the ropes and shook hands with a friend as I played the last hole of the 1961 Masters with a one-stroke lead. That was a big mistake because the job wasn’t done yet. I lost my concentration and wound up making six on the hole and losing the tournament by a stroke to Gary Player.
I departed from my own rules of playing. You must concentrate until the end, but I accepted congratulations walking off the tee and I had always been taught never to do that.
On debut as Masters Honorary Starter
I was certainly a little bit nervous and the anticipation was something. The people were wonderful. They showed up in droves to see that happen and that pleased me very much. Of course, I was happy that I was able to hit a reasonable drive off the first tee. I went to the practice tee first and hit a few balls, so I didn’t go to the first tee cold.
What did you think of the 2008 U.S. Open?
What Tiger accomplished on one good leg was remarkable. It was a victory for the ages. As for Rocco, I thought he really excelled. He did a fantastic job. It’s too bad he didn’t win. That’s the only thing I can say that isn’t positive. I’m sorry he didn’t. He proved to himself and the world he’s capable of winning a major. He really did the people of Western Pennsylvania proud.
What courses might prove to be a good venue for either the U.S. Open or PGA Championship?
It’s strictly a matter of opinion, but for a long time I’ve believed that Bay Hill might be a good place for the U.S. Open and certainly Laurel Valley, which has held some major senior events and the PGA Championship. I could go on and on about these courses.
Do you ever regret resisting calls for you to run
There was a time when some people in America thought I should run for President. It was short-lived because I didn’t allow it to get out of hand. I think there are certainly some people who were better qualified than me, but a couple of them maybe weren’t!
In 1976 you were part of a three-man team with James Bir and Lewis Purkey that set a round-the-world flight record in just over 57 hours and 25 minutes. How did that opportunity occur?
I was at an NBAA [National Business Avaiation Association] meeting in New Orleans and I was flying a Lear 24 at the time. I was looking for another airplane because my lease on the 24 was running out. A guy named Harry Combs said, “Arnie, I’ll make you a deal: if you fly around the world in a Lear 36 and set a world record then I’ll make you a deal on a Lear 35”, which is [the plane] I wanted. So my good friend Russ Meyer put a deal together with Harry Combs. It happened to be the year of the Bicentennial, 1976, and I did it. It was an incredible experience.
[In 2010 a Swiss crew tried to break Palmer’s record, but fell short by more than half an hour.]
Can golf courses continue to lengthen in the future?
Certainly, they aren’t going to shorten golf courses. Making the golf ball less lively would solve a lot of problems. It would help the great traditional golf courses remain challenging and relevant. The golf ball needs to be slowed down and the sooner we get to that the better off all of golf will be.
One of the things I am working on is trying to reduce the cost [of golf course maintenance]. That’s something we have to do to grow the game. And environmentally, we are working extremely hard to improve the environment by using less water, fewer chemicals and that is imperative. We must do that.
The future of the PGA golf pro
I hope there will always be pro shops. The pro shop and the PGA pro are very important to the game. The pro is as much the pro shop as the building itself. A really good pro is important to the membership. A good club pro creates an atmosphere where people want to come and play golf and enjoy the camaraderie of a day at the golf course.
And that is what your father did at Latrobe…
Yes he did. I still think about him all the time and remain very thankful for all the things he taught me. For all the advice and the feelings he gave me in my youth. He was great and for that reason I do think about him. I was lucky to have him for a father.
On receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, aged 80, in 2009…
It was the most prestigious honor ever bestowed on me, at the White House by President Obama. He signed the act which made me the 141st recipient in the history of our great country. To realize that George Washington was the first recipient back in 1776 is truly humbling. Its recipients are among the more impressive people in American history; John Wayne, Roberto Clemente, Byron Nelson, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Bob Hope, Louis L’Amour. A lot of great Americans.
Could there be a higher honor?
I guess not, but I wish somebody would give me a PGA Championship! But that’s not going to happen.
Did you know that some young people know you as “the iced tea guy”?
No, is that true?! I did not know that. That’s funny!
What was your greatest victory?
Even though I won seven major titles, the one that meant the most was the U.S. Amateur in 1954. I consider that to be my greatest victory. It meant everything to me and to my career.
Do they play golf in Heaven?
A Heaven without any golf sounds like Hell to me! I think the courses will be in outstanding condition and the views will be absolutely lovely. They’ll all be perfect, but our games still won’t be. It wouldn’t be any fun if every shot was a hole-in-one. There’ll have to be some stiff challenges and tricky pin positions. I believe there will be bogies in Heaven.