Arnold Palmer isn’t happy, to say the least, that the world’s top two players, Luke Donald, who returned to No. 1 after winning the Transitions Championship last week, and reigning U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy aren’t playing his tournament at Bay Hill.
“I’m disappointed that they are not here, no question about it,” said Palmer during his presser on Wednesday. “They are the top players on the Tour right now in the positions that they are in, and I am disappointed.”
In both Luke and Rory’s defense, they can’t play every tournament. Players build their schedules around the majors and tend to play in tournaments where they’ve finished well at golf courses that suit their games.
Historically, Luke hasn’t played well at Bay Hill, a course that favors bombers. With the exception of 2007 when he finished 8th, he’s missed the cut in his other three starts, the last time being in 2008. Last week at Innisbrook when I asked Luke about the first time he shook Arnie’s hand, he said he actually hadn’t spent much time around him.
“That’s kind of one thing I’d like to adjust or change,” said Donald, referring to the fact he hasn’t interacted much with Palmer. “Unfortunately, I never play that well at Bay Hill, so I don’t go there that often.”
Meanwhile, Rory feels like he plays better right out the gate. Taking long-ish breaks before the majors has become routine for him. Last year he took three weeks off before the Masters and it seemed to work pretty well (up until the 10th hole on Sunday). So it makes sense he’d stick to the same plan.
On the other end of the spectrum, Englishman Justin Rose is making his sixth start this week — and that’s not counting the Tavistock Cup, though he did kind of have a week off since he was ousted from the Match Early in round 1.
“I’m a lunatic,” said Rose on Sunday after the final round of the Transitions Championship when asked about his packed schedule. “My original deal was that I liked all the tournaments, I’ve played well in all of them. I felt my game was good. I just wanted to give myself the best chance to get a W on the board early in the season.
“I feel like (the final round) gave me the momentum I can take to Bay Hill. It’ll be important for me to have the week off before the Masters just to really get my energy back and get fully fresh.”
Palmer felt a little slighted when he received a letter from Rory seeking his consultation in a one-on-one meeting, while also informing him he wouldn’t be at Bay Hill.
“And of course that made me feel great,” said Arnold, sarcastically, with a laugh. “And if you believe that, I’ll talk to you outside afterwards. I’m certainly not happy that those fellas chose not to come this year.”
Palmer went so far as to imply the Europeans owed him for reviving the British Open when he went to play in 1960. Back then, most Americans didn’t travel overseas, but Palmer helped changed that and restored its popularity and prominence as a go-to event.
“We are doing everything we can to entice them to come and play,” he said. “When I think back over the years, when back in the early years of the PGA Tour and I went to the British Open to kind of enhance or to create additional interest in international golf; and to think that those people are now the international players in the world, we like to have them here.
“We have a wonderful field and we are very proud of our field, but to have a couple of the top players internationally and U.S. not here, I’m kind of sorry for that. But I think we can get that squared away and maybe we’ll entice them to come in the future.”
Well, I think Rory and Luke will hear the message loud and clear now. And it sounds like if Rory ever wants that one-on-one sit-down with Mr. Palmer, we’ll see him in the field in 2013. It also seems like he’s willing to give the young Ulsterman a break. In other words, consider this more like a strong suggestion.
“I think (Rory) has handled himself very well,” said Palmer. “I don’t know him really well; I know him and have talked to him a little bit. But I think he has done a wonderful job at 22 years old and starting a career like he has just gotten launched onto.
“I had a letter from him as I mentioned earlier, and talking about coming up and having a talk with me. I’m not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me, but I look forward to seeing him and talking to him. And of course, as I said, I’m sorry that he isn’t here. But he has mentioned he also mentioned in the letter that he will be here to play in the years to come.”
[Ed. note: More to come, but I gotta get out of this media center…mostly because I don’t want to walk to my car in the dark — it’s far away and I might get lost! Only kinda kidding.]
**Update: More highlights from Arnie’s presser.
*On Mastercard re-upping sponsorship of the tournament through 2016: “Well, this is wonderful. It just continues with something that has been very, very good. The hospital is thriving…the new neonatal intensive care unit with the addition is very important to all of us. And as you know, the Arnold Palmer Hospital and Winnie Palmer Hospital and the Medical Center turns no one away…So with the announcement of the four more years and of course Mr. Finchem and the PGA Tour working closely with MasterCard and our sponsors, I am most appreciative of all the things that are happening. Thank you very much.”
*On long putters: “I don’t think there’s ever been a club made that I know of that has not been in my bag. (Laughter) May not stay long, and the long putter is one of them. I’m not a fan of long putters. I suppose that if I were playing, and a long putter, being totally legal, and would help my game, I might use it. But I’m opposed to it personally. I just think that there shouldn’t be a place in the game for anchoring a club against the body, which is what the long putter does. So, technically, and principally, I am against it. But would I use it if it were going to enhance my game in the competition? I might.”
*On Tiger’s game: “I haven’t been close to Tiger other than what you do or what I do as far as reading the papers. I have not talked to him personally in some time. And I’m watching him swing and I’m watching him play, and I see some moments of the old-fashioned Tiger that is very good. I see some swing changes from time to time that he is employing in his swing, and I question that. But I’m like everyone else in this room, or anywhere that’s watching him play; we look for things that are different. And I see some difference in his swing. But again, I can’t tell you just what those things are or what he’s thinking about how he’s going to continue to play. I think he’s strong enough and he’s smart enough and he’s got all of the equipment to do the things that he always did do, and I think it’s just a matter of getting it in the proper order to make him play the kind of golf that he played in the past 20 years. So you know, if I were making a prediction, I would say, look out, because one of these days, he’s going to come back and play pretty good golf.”
*On this year’s crazy finishes, with multiple blown leads, along with impressive comebacks: “You’re are seeing some unusual golf this year. I think this is an exceptional year as far as closing out tournaments. You know, it’s never in the history of golf, it’s never been easy to win on TOUR. It’s always tough. Looking at a field of 144 players, and you get down to the last 70 and then you get down to the nitty-gritty few coming up the stretch; it’s tough.
*On Ernie Els’ bogey-bogey finish to give away the lead on Sunday at the Transitions: “We saw a great player, that is great player, and has been acclaimed as a great player, but you saw him make a couple bogeys the other day coming in. Well, that’s unusual for a guy, and particularly like Ernie , who is a player of the calibre that he is. But you never know what’s going on. Sometimes it’s confidence in your game; sometimes it’s just a mental lapse. But something can always happen that will put you off-track.
“I look at guys, and my grandson, for example, I’ll say, ‘Sam, what happened, what did you do?’
“He says, ‘I got nervous.’ He was honest about it. He got nervous, and it affected him.
“What I have always contended, and of course the thing that I use myself, was to just have a system, play your system and practice your system, whether you’re on the practice tee or whether you’re coming down the stretch needing a couple birdies to win a tournament. And I’ve been there. I’ve done it, and I know that if I wasn’t nervous, I wouldn’t be there.
“But when people say, oh, he got nervous; hell, I hope so, because that’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to get nervous and you’ve got to be able to control those nerves. But that is the bottom line, and there’s not anyone that I have ever seen including Nelson, Hogan, Snead, all of the great players; Nicklaus, Player, that can say that they weren’t nervous and they didn’t feel the pressure of finishing a golf tournament, because it’s there. And it is always there, and if it isn’t, you’re not there.”
Ed note: Couldn’t agree more. Maybe my favorite Arnie answer today.
*On his own “system”: “Rather than getting into the details of the system I used, it all was started with the basic fundamentals of the game. And my system dwelled on the basic fundamentals, whether it was a strong grip, a weak grip, which I started out in a strong position and then as the years went on went to a weaker position with my grip. That’s helped me accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish But most important, that I had that system that I could rely on. And I practiced the system all the time. I didn’t just go hit balls on the range and try to hit it down to the flag or to the caddie or whatever. I think that that has something that I developed my system to do.
“One of the things that was very important I felt was the fact that we used to have caddies pick up the shag balls. Well, you have the same thing now, but you have it in the form of a flagstick out there or a target. But in the older days, we had caddies with the bag out there and they picked up the balls. So we were hitting to a target all the time. I had a caddie that caught the ball with a baseball glove all the time.
“Gary Player used to tell the story about, he says, ‘Arnie hits it so good, the caddie hits it here with the glove, here with the glove. Sometimes it hits him right on the head, and before he gets up, he hits him again.'”
Ed note: My old swing coach Joe Thiel used to always make me hit pitches/wedge shots to him with a baseball glove. It’s kinda scary at first because you don’t want to hit them, but then you realize they trust you’re good enough that you’ll hit it right in the glove or at least close every time (or more important, not blade or shank it).
*”On Tiger’s chances at Augusta: “I don’t know whether I would put it in the best chance category. I think Augusta is tough. It’s a trying situation and the field is a wonderful field. It’s a very hard field to think that it makes it easier because it’s smaller. I’m not so sure that even is in the cards for what is going to happen. I think that to win, you have to be on top of your game at Augusta, and there’s no question about that.
“And so Tiger will have to be. Does it make it more likely that he’ll win there? Only in that he will probably work very hard to get his game and his personal in shape to win. There’s certainly that possibility. That’s kind of the prize at the end of the rainbow, and that’s what he’s going to have to work for. Will he win? I don’t know. I’m not sure that I could say that he’s in that good of shape right now, but I know he’s working for it.”
*On struggling with the putter, especially under pressure: “I don’t think anyone has ever played the Tour and played it as long as I have with not having a balky putter. Sure, it happened to me. Some of the things that I did were advice from my father. And George Low was one of the guys that kind of used to watch me putt a lot when I was practicing. He would always he never really gave me a lot of instruction. That was not the point. The one thing George used to do was say, ‘Man, you’re the greatest putter in the world.’ Well, that was probably what I needed, somebody to give me confidence in the fact that I could putt.
“And then there were little things, like I’d like to think that many, many years ago when I was starting to play and putting and practicing a lot, I was the first to use the reverse overlap. And of course, no one can say that I started it or someone else started it, but that became very popular. And today, as you know, most of the guys use a reverse overlap on their putter grip. Changing that from time to time was one of my systems for kind of reviving my putting.
“The other thing that Low said to me one day, he says, ‘When you’re a little nervous and you’re having a little trouble with your putting, just put your nail of your thumb on your left hand in the grip’ like that, and I tried it.
“I remember I was playing in the Western Open and I had about a 4foot putt to win the Open, and I felt kind of shaky. I was trying to get myself in order, and I thought, well, what the hell, I’ll try that. And I put that thumb up and took a few strokes and I walked over and took the putt and knocked it in the hole to win the tournament.”
That’s most of the good stuff. The End.
(AP Photo/John Raoux)