In his annual pre-tournament press conference at Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer spoke on a wide range of topics surrounding the game. Most notably, he shared his thoughts on Tiger Woods’ nagging back injury — which forced Woods to withdraw from the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Tuesday.
Palmer thinks it could prevent Woods from his quest to catch Jack Nicklaus’ career all-time major record.
I don’t think 38 years is the ultimate stopping point for his quest to do what Jack did,” said Palmer. “I think it lessens the possibility of that happening. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be tough to keep the concentration and the type of the game that is necessary to win majors.
He also factored in the growing talent pool among the golf’s current youth movement.
The fact is that these young guys are tough,” said Palmer. “And they’re strong. And if they continue to play as well as they’ve been playing it’s going to be tough for anybody, including anybody else, whether it be Nicklaus or Tiger or whomever it would be to continue to win Major championships.
We’re talking about guys that are playing good and coming on. And the fear of a player being so good that they back off, I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think that the players that are going to win and win major championships have to be physically fit, mentally fit and they’re going to continue to be tough to beat.
Woods called Palmer personally on Tuesday to break him the unfortunate news that his lingering back problem was going to prevent him from competing this week. In Tiger’s last two starts, he’s struggled with a lower back injury, more specifically spasms and pain, which have visibly hindered him in competition.
“Well, of course he didn’t tell me how bad his back is,” said Palmer, referring to his conversation with Woods. “I don’t think he knows how bad his back is. I think he’s listening to the doctors. And he mentioned that they’re saying that he needs to give it a bit of a rest and see if he can work it out. He was very nice.”
“I, of course, have great sympathy for the fact that he tried like hell to come here and play. And I appreciate that and the fact that he called and just I think he wanted to play golf this week. He just feels that over strange and I think that he needs to take, whether it’s this week, next week or the following week, to get ready for Augusta. Certainly if I were in that position I’d be doing much the same. I appreciate the fact that he did call and he made every effort to play. “
I’m sure Woods also didn’t want to risk his back flaring up again and being forced to withdraw in the middle of the tournament. Earlier this month at the Honda Classic, Woods pulled out in the final round after 13 holes. The following week at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, he had an awkward stance in a fairway bunker on the 6th hole and the swing tweaked his back. He ended up shooting a career-high final round six-over 78 at Trump National Doral that Sunday.
Here are highlights from the rest of Palmer’s press conference…
*On the course conditions this week: “Well, of course you know the golf course as the players are testifying to the fact that it’s in great condition, maybe the best that it has been since we’ve had this tournament. Everything is pretty much right on schedule. The greens will be fast. They’ll be running about 12, 13 on the Stimp, and they are in excellent condition throughout. The fairways are probably the biggest improvement in the golf course over 36 events, and they are excellent, also.”
*On whether the ball should be rolled back: “Well, there’s no question about the fact that my opinion is that the golf ball needs to be slowed down. It’s going too far. And these young people are getting stronger and stronger. And the equipment that they’re building today enhances the ability to hit the golf ball far.
“And when you look at the yardage distance, if you study the statistics on the driving average for the pros on the Tour, it’s well over 300 yards. And with all of that said, we need to really get into the investigation of slowing the ball down.
“Now, is that happening? Well, I happen to think that it is happening. USGA, the PGA and the Tour are all working with varies experiments and things to slow the ball down. How far they’ve gone, I can’t answer that.”
*On slow play: “Well, as you’ve seen lately, I have done some work with the USGA and with the PGA Tour and the PGA to make people more aware of the slow play that is causing tremendous inconvenience and continuing slow play. And we will continue I will work as long as they ask me to to help enhance and to slow the time it takes to play a round of golf. Our courses, such as Bay Hill, Pebble Beach and other courses that we are involved in around the country, are doing everything we can, from having caddies that are going out with groups to encourage them to play a little bit faster is finish the rounds everything we can do that is physically possible we’re doing to encourage people to play a round of golf faster.
“We will have to do some more dramatic things to keep the play moving throughout the country and encourage the average golfer to play a little bit faster.”
*On how he handled playing with a slow player over the weekend during his heyday: “Well, of course there isn’t much a player can do except to encourage his fellow player to continue to move faster.
“The Tour, the officials on the Tour, are constantly watching the pace of play and they are encouraged to keep play moving as much as humanly possible. That is a problem. That’s the major problem that we’re facing. And getting the message to the guys that are playing golf every day, the amateurs, the higher handicap players are people that we are encouraged to get the play moving faster.
“It’s a sensitive thing. A guy can say, well, you know, I’m destined to take a little more time to figure out a shot and to play that shot. And of course we, as officials or whatever, are encouraging them to keep the pace of play moving. And you can watch some of the players and see how fast they go. And you can watch other players who are slow and slow thinkers. And of course what are you going to tell a guy that’s a slow thinker, hey, you’ve got to start thinking faster? (Laughter) That’s pretty difficult.”
*On the loss of the famed Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National: “Well, of course I played Augusta every year since that tree was a baby and I watched it grow up (laughter).
“And, yes, I had encounters with it. I won the Masters one year when I hit it right into the tree and hit a 4iron from under the tree on to the 17th green. So it was a problem to everybody. And I played a lot of golf at Augusta with Ike. And of course he hated that tree.
“But he was a soft spoken guy and a president who was very enjoyable. And he didn’t like the tree at all. A couple of times he told me, he said, Arnie, if I could hit that tree enough to bring it down, I’d do it ( laughter.) And that’s in fun.
“But the tree was a hazard, no question about it. It was a hazard to the professionals playing and particularly in recent years. In the early years it wasn’t so much. I used to just whip it right over the tree. I didn’t think much about it in the earlier years. But now it’s gone. What are they going to do? I have no idea. No one has called and said, Arnie, what do you think we should do?
“I did do one tree similar to that that worked out very well, just as a bit of information. And that was the tree at the 18th at Pebble Beach. And I was key in that replacement of that tree. We’d moved a tree from the first hole all the way around the bend from No. 1 across 2, 3, right back up to the 18th and planted it. And you can see what that tree is doing. It’s doing extremely well. And I think it will be there for a lot of years yet.
“If they wanted to look at it, they could do that. They could probably put another tree in there. I certainly think that Augusta has done more astounding things than just moving a tree. I’ll be interested to hear and see what they are going to say about it when I get there.”
*On whether the young brash players these days strike him as more cocky than in his era: “Well, I suppose that I have been surprised recently with some of the comments that the young players say. As my father taught me, and he drove home that point, was he said, just remember something, he said, you don’t need to tell anybody how good you are. You show them how good you are. And he drove that home with me.
“So I learned early not to brag about how good I was or what I could do but let my game take that away and show them that I could play well enough to play. And I tried to do that rather than talking about it, show them. Win and win as much as you can. And I think Nicklaus has done that. Tiger has done that. I never heard Jack Nicklaus say I’m a great player or Tiger Woods, as a matter of fact. They just get out and do it. And I think that that’s far more appealing and a great more satisfaction from that than talking about how good you are.”