One of the things that changed my mind was meeting Winnie. She was 20, the daughter of a Coopersburg, Pa. manufacturer. It was a case of love at first sight—on my part, at least—but golf helped pave the way. Some of my golfing friends lured me into a trip to Pine Valley, the famous New Jersey course, and into a bet where I was to receive $100 for every stroke I shot under 72 but would have to pay $100 for every stroke over 80. I had no idea, when I made the agreement, how really tough Pine Valley is. It was a sucker bet—but I was young and in love, and nothing could scare me. I had to sink a 30-foot putt on the first hole to get a bogey, and my game could have gone to pieces right there as I started contemplating how much money I was likely to owe at the end of the day. I settled down, though, and shot a 68. I won $400 on my original bet and $400 more on side bets, and promptly spent most of it on an engagement ring.
In the fall of 1954 I made the big decision. I had won the National Amateur and was supposed to go to England with the Walker Cup team. I wanted to go very badly. But suddenly I realized how impossible it was. I did not feel I could afford the trip to England, and I was not about to make much more money as long as I divided my energies between business and golf. I called Winnie long-distance and asked her if she would mind if I skipped the Walker Cup matches and turned pro instead. She said, "I want you to do whatever you want to do,"—which is the kind of girl she is. So I became a professional.
One of my first tournaments as a pro was in Miami. My father and I drove down there together and stayed in the same motel room. We were both full of confidence, but I failed even to make the cut. After the second day of the tournament I was o-u-t, out. I did not go back to the motel. I ducked my father and went out on the town. When I finally got back early in the morning, my father was awake and waiting for me. "What's wrong with you?" he asked. "Are you too lovesick to play?" I said I guessed that I was. "Well, then marry her," he said. "Get it over with."
I got a few hours' sleep, put my dad on a plane and drove to Winnie's home. She was willing to marry me then and there, but her parents did not like the idea, and I could hardly blame them. How would you like a daughter to run off with a young fellow who had just turned pro, had thus far failed to earn a nickel at his new job and who showed up like a wild man badly in need of sleep and a shave? We settled that problem. We eloped. Our future was unsure, at best. Who would have thought it would develop so brightly?
Winnie and I started off on the tour with not much but a set of golf clubs, an old secondhand trailer to live in and plenty of conviction. Soon we moved up to a new trailer—thanks to a $600 loan from Winnie's parents, who by now were used to the idea of a golf pro for a son-in-law. Then we were out of the trailer class completely, and Winnie and I found ourselves having our first home built. It was across the road from the Latrobe Country Club, and I have to smile a little bit now when I remember how tough I was with Winnie about the cost of the house. I insisted we could not build it any bigger than I could pay for—with cash. I guess I was a little conservative. The house, for sure, turned out to be conservative. We have been adding rooms to it ever since.
It is hard even for me to realize how much the professional tour has changed in that short interval between our first trailer and our latest playroom. I have become part of a truly amazing sports business, one that is growing faster than the wildest optimist could have dreamed. It is now perfectly possible for the top 10 or so golfers to have total incomes exceeding $75,000 a year.
This in turn means that today's touring professional has had to become a far different kind of person from those who dominated the game 20 years ago. He has to do things that are quite foreign to an athlete's normal activities and temperament. He has to keep careful business records and receipts; he has to itemize each day's expense account before he goes to bed; he has to prove where he has been and what he has done to the satisfaction of his own tax man and of Uncle Sam. He has to plan his life far in advance. He cannot just drive into a city where a tournament is being held and expect to find a hotel or motel room five minutes away from the course anymore.
The more successful the golfer, the more the distractions. Believe me, I am not knocking it. I love the opportunity and security that come from my outside business interests. I am glad there is such a thing as the Arnold Palmer Company. I am glad that I need a lawyer-agent to help plan my career and to write my contracts. I am delighted that newspapermen like to interview me and that people seek my autograph. But sometimes the outside pressures do get in the way. While I was delayed at this year's Phoenix Open because of two rained-out rounds, I could not help thinking that half a dozen important businessmen, directors of the Palmer Company, were losing the entire day because we had planned a board meeting in Chattanooga. When I have to start a tournament after posing all morning for photographs that an advertising agency needs for one of the companies in which I have an interest; and some newspapermen have been interviewing me during the breaks; and I get word that my lawyer has been trying to get hold of me on the phone; and there is a wire at the golf course asking me to take part in a charity television show—when all these things happen, as they so often do, I sometimes long for the old days when all I had to do was practice and play golf, practice and play golf.
So my concentration oozes away, my game becomes ragged. It is then that I take a break between tournaments. I step into my airplane and fly home, something that I could not have done until I became successful at golf, something that none of yesterday's pros could afford to do. It is a plane that golf bought me, and it takes me to a home that golf bought me, and to a family that would never have had its present comforts and opportunities without golf. I think about all the wonderful things that have happened to me. I think how, as a smalltown boy, I used to marvel at the movie stars who, according to rumor, made such miraculous sums as $100 a week. I think how I used to stare starstruck at Bob Hope, and I marvel at the fact that Bob Hope is now a friend of mine: I remember the day I helped him win the pro-am at Phoenix, and how he spent the entire evening calling all his friends around the country to brag about it. I think about playing golf with Dwight D. Eisenhower, while he was President of the United States, and since then, too. That is another fabulous thing about golf. It brings men together within the firm bonds of a strong mutual interest. Golfers are automatically friends. I can feel comfortable and take intense pleasure playing golf with a President—or with a local grocer.
I think about the trips I have taken: to South Africa to play a series of exhibitions with my good friend Gary Player, to Canada, to England, to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, to the Philippines, Australia, Rhodesia, the Belgian Congo, to Mexico, Argentina, Panama and Colombia. I think how golf has become one of the most international of all sports, and how I have had my part in helping it grow. I consider all this, and then I do what any man would do in my situation. I sit back and I relax. And I think, "My, you are a lucky fellow, Arnold Palmer." Thank you, golf.