Attending an Arnold Palmer press conference is always a treat for the media. The King stopped by the interview room at Bay Hill for about 30 minutes, making some opening remarks about his event before fielding our questions. Here are selected excerpts that I found the most thought-provoking or interesting:
First, on the state of Tiger’s game and his chances this week:
Q. Tiger is back in the field and he’s won here a lot, but he’s off form. What do you make of his game right now and his chances this week?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I’ve obviously been watching his game just like everyone else has. I feel like Tiger has a golf game that he can come to the surface any time. I think that’s certainly a possibility here. He likes the golf course. He likes what we’ve done. So I would just not count him out at all. I think his swing changes, I don’t know enough about what he’s doing whether, you know, laying the club off and all that stuff, I’m not going to get into that because that’s up to Tiger.
But I think he’s capable of winning any time.
Next, the King was particularly funny the way he talked about Tiger’s swing changes:
Q. Did you make any significant swing changes during your career and are you surprised that Tiger is doing so again?
ARNOLD PALMER: You know, I never — I really did not make any swing changes in my career. I started with a pattern when I started playing the TOUR, and I stuck with it until today, and I will go with it today in the Pro-Am and hope to hell I can hit it in the fairway and hope I can hit it longer than what I’ve been hitting it. And I hit it so far these days that I hear it land. (Laughter).
Q. What about Tiger? Are you surprised given all of his success that he’s done this again?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I’m a little surprised that he’s changing his game or doing what he’s doing to his game, which I’m really not sure what it is. I thought I saw something, a bit of a lay-off of the way he lays the club back and that looked a little different. But again, I’m not going to claim to be an expert about his swing. I thought that the first few times that I played with him on the TOUR, way back when he first came out, and I thought he had a great swing and I thought he had a great posture in hitting the golf ball par. And obviously it was, because he didn’t win all of those tournaments without having those things.
So changing? Well, that’s up to Tiger. I can’t — I don’t want to inject anything into something I don’t really know enough about to talk about.
Q. What do you think of — you’ve mentioned swing changes. What do you think of the predominance and growing influence of the swing coaches who in some cases are even more well known than a lot of the players at this point.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, I’m not familiar with the — I know the swing coaches, some of them, and I certainly don’t want to step on their toes, because if that’s what the people want, a swing is coach, that’s fine.
My father was my swing coach, and I saw him at least once a year for about 70 years, and he never changed anything. He watched me for five minutes and went home. (Laughter) It’s like he put my grip on the club and my hands on the golf club when I was six years old and he said, “Boy, don’t you ever change it.”
Well, I haven’t changed it. And I’m 82 years old, or 81 years old.
Does the King consider golfers as athletes? Well, there are certainly more “physical specimens” out there than ever before. You know, like Brendon de Jonge, D.A. Points and Jason Dufner! Kidding.
Q. Do you think that the top players today are better, quote, unquote, athletes than the top players were when you were playing regularly?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think there’s certainly a lot more physicalness on the TOUR today than there was overall when I started. I’d like to think that a lot of the guys were very physical, even when I played.
But a lot of the guys just played golf. They were golf professionals and they didn’t concentrate on physical fitness such as the guys that are playing today. So the answer is, yes, there are more physical specimens out here playing the TOUR today than there’s ever been before.
And of course, we have made that all possible for them with the trailers and the physical fitness that accompanies the TOUR, it’s a natural thing for them to be more physical. And I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s very good. The guys, you talk about Tiger’s swing changes and the things that he’s doing; one thing that he has always done is stay in good physical condition, and that’s a plus and it’s going to be a plus for him as long as he plays.
And the same thing with these young guys; they all are aware of the physical fitness and the factor that that involves in swinging a golf club and hitting it the distance they are hitting it. I am amazed the way they hit the golf ball today and how far, whether it’s my grandson or Rickie or some of the other young guys that are coming along.
And on the topic of slow play, Arnie’s opening lines had us rolling with laughter.
Q. Slow play seems to be a topic that the players still chat about out on the range. If you were Commissioner, what would you do to deal with the slow play?
ARNOLD PALMER: Slow play? Well, I think, of course, I put up with it for 50 years (laughter) and I think it’s something that is very hard to regulate, but I think they are doing a reasonable job in getting play speeded up. And I think that they should continue to do things that will speed up play; meaning, I just couldn’t — you can’t make things happen if you don’t regulate them, and that’s what they are trying to do.
If I were the Commissioner, which I’m not, and do not want to be, but I would say that what they are doing is pretty good in helping speed up play. And I think maybe even going a little more in that direction, it would be good. But definitely, we have to in the game of golf, we have to do things to speed up play. Not just on the TOUR; we have to do things to speed up play all over the game.
And of course, the more people that watch pros take their time and fiddle and fuss around about hitting a golf shot, the more we are going to see play slowed in the normal ranks on golf courses around the country, and that is something that is of major importance to the future of the game.
That’s all for now because Tiger Woods will be in the interview room in 30 seconds where I’m sure he’ll say so many interesting things! But of course, I’m still going to attend.