The business of running a golf tournament means long hours and heavy stress. "There comes a point where sometimes you just want to go home, have a drink, eat and go to bed," said Nestle Invitational host Arnold Palmer from his office overlooking the parking lot at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge last Thursday evening. "Monday morning I'll be drained, but not for any particular reason, just the emotion of the whole thing."
It is hard to find a better-run event on the PGA Tour than Palmer's. He is as proud of his tournament as Jack Nicklaus is of the Memorial, and that pride is reflected in the product. "I live in Orlando, so I know the club and the tournament very well," says Ian Baker-Finch. "I know Arnold and the people associated with Arnold. Everyone looks up to him so much that they do their utmost to make sure it is well run."
Most of Palmer's work takes place in the weeks leading up to the Nestle. This year his biggest concern was that the golf course had turned brown during a winter cold snap. After consulting with Bay Hill superintendent Dwight Kummer, Palmer elected not to overseed the fairways. "It worked out beautifully," Palmer said last week. "They turned green, I didn't allow carts on them, and within two weeks we had the best fairways you've ever seen."
Once the tournament began, it seemed to run on auto pilot. On Thursday, Palmer began the day with his five-month-old grandson, William, crawling on him while granddad went through his stretching routine on the floor of his home at Bay Hill. "That gives me enough pleasure to get through the day," Palmer said. The King teed off at 9:50 and shot a one-over-par 73. It was a commendable score—one stroke better those of Justin Leonard and Ernie Els, the former U.S. Amateur and reigning U.S. Open champions, respectively. Taken together, the 22-year-old Leonard and the 25-year-old Els are 18 years younger than Palmer.
Palmer's round on Friday was interrupted by rain and lightning. He came back Saturday morning and was five over for his remaining 15 holes. With a score of 78 for the round, he missed the cut. Palmer immediately went to the garage near his condominium to take out his frustrations. There, alone, he bent and reshaped the clubs that had failed him on the course. "That unwinds me," he said afterward.
Though the tournament had to carry on without Palmer on the weekend, he was still very much a part of the scene. He appeared on the NBC telecast and presented Loren Roberts with the $216,000 winner's check and the mounted Wilkinson sword that goes to the Bay Hill champion.
This was Palmer's 17th year as host of the Bay Hill event, and the field was the season's best, with the top 23 players on the Sony rankings—testimonial to the man who helped make golf what it is in America. "The guys every year have supported us tremendously, and I really appreciate it," Palmer said. "If I can just keep it going like this, and keep getting it a little bit better every year, which it has been doing, I'll be happy. I will go to any extreme to make it as close as possible to a major."
A Tougher TPC?
While it didn't lack star quality, last year The Players Championship (TPC) in Ponte Vedra, Fla., turned into a nightmare for PGA Tour officials. With soft greens, no wind and light rough, Greg Norman destroyed the tournament record at the once-feared Tournament Players Club Stadium Course by six strokes in �l runaway victory over Fuzzy Zoeller. Instead of being hailed as one of the most impressive performances of the decade, Norman's 24-under-par 264 was considered the product of a course that had becomea cream puff, especially considering that the Players has long sought major-championship status.