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WHY HE HAS TO PLAY THE GAME HIS LIVELY WAY
Mark H. McCormack
March 27, 1967
His approach to golf is bold—even rash—but trying to be more careful made him a loser. Now he again is doing things in his own fashion, while displaying the emotions that show how much he cares
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March 27, 1967

Why He Has To Play The Game His Lively Way

His approach to golf is bold—even rash—but trying to be more careful made him a loser. Now he again is doing things in his own fashion, while displaying the emotions that show how much he cares

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He also must pose for a certain number of photographic sessions. He has to spend eight or nine days a year being photographed for sportswear manufacturers, for his club company, for catalogs, for his golf-school program and things of that sort. These picture sessions, however, are more often than not held at or near Latrobe. He can have breakfast at home in the morning, go out for the photography and come back home for dinner at night, just the way a normal person would go down to the office. They are scheduled at Arnold's convenience and do not interfere with tournament play.

Beyond these, Arnold's main business responsibilities lie in approving the major decisions made by his various executives or companies. I act as a screen for these requests. I am executive vice-president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, executive vice-president of Arnold Palmer Golf Company, president of Arnold's two export companies, Palmer Golf Export and Palmer Apparel Export, and either president or executive vice-president of all the other companies with which he is involved. But in no instance will I ever make a decision that I feel is of major consequence without discussing it first with Arnold. He and I are in constant telephone contact, I would say almost on a daily basis, and we get together about every two weeks for a meeting where papers are signed and complicated matters are discussed.

In short, the actual pressure of business-making decisions is pretty much off Arnold's shoulders and will be for as long as he plays tournament golf.

What is more, his businesses are far past the point where he has to win to insure their success. He has transcended the financial need for being a winning golfer, and I have told him this many times. Instead, it is his public image that is the strength of his companies, that and the fact that he is a stimulating personality. This means that the pressure on him to win—which he does feel—is not a pressure based on business commitments. It is nothing but the demand for victory that is within the man. And this is as it should be. Arnold Palmer will never tee off at Augusta thinking. "I've got to win this one or my shirts won't sell," and if he hooks that first drive, it won't be because he is a corporation president.

Now to the other question, Palmer's style of play. Surely it is the most exciting in the game's history, but it also has led to some astonishing defeats. One word can sum up most great golfers. Bobby Jones, concentrator; Walter Hagen, theatrical; Byron Nelson, precise; Sam Snead, rhythmical; Ben Hogan, methodical. The word for Palmer is bold. He is the boldest of all players. The game has never seen one like him. I have joked with him that the epitaph on his tombstone ought to read: "Here lies Arnold Palmer. He went for the green."

Boldness has characterized Arnold's play since he was old enough to understand what his father meant when Deacon told him, "Hit it hard." Arnold has always believed that any shot was possible if you could swing at the ball—and move it. Arnold's style is to try something. And, more often than not, that something has worked for him.

Ironically, Arnold's steadfast belief that he can always escape from difficulty is sometimes responsible for his getting into it in the first place. He may hit shots into peculiar places—a cornfield, a marsh, or inside a tree stump, as he did in the 1963 Open playoff at Brookline—but this usually comes about because he is attacking the course. The style that results in a 9 when he is leading the Crosby on the last day and lets him hit four straight tee shots out of bounds—a plaque marks that feat at the Rancho Park Municipal Golf Club in Los Angeles—is the same style that enables him to run off his strings of birdies and go for frequent eagles.

The general effect of Arnold's game is melodrama. His golf is like the old Dodger days at Ebbets Field, where anything could happen, and this is one reason why he is so popular. The fans realize that what Palmer does is not going to be routine, that it is likely to be, in fact, theater-in-the-round.

An English writer, Peter Ryde, once did a story on Palmer called Portrait of an Aggressive Golfer and in a single anecdote from the 1964 World Match Play tournament he captured much of what is basic to Arnold's golf. "There have been more classic swings than his," said Ryde, "and there have been more relentlessly accurate golfers than he; but was there ever a more disturbing opponent or one who responded so readily to every challenge?" Ryde then described a moment in Palmer's finals match against Neil Coles: "Palmer had become 2 up and he had behind him the exhilaration of a brilliant 3 at the 15th, one of the hardest holes on the course. That 16th is narrow, especially coming at the crisis of a match; it calls for a one-iron or a three-wood for anyone with the power to get up easily in two. Palmer had taken a one-iron there in, I think, every previous round; for him it was the sensible club. When he was 2 up with three to play in the final, there was in all sanity-no other club for him to take except the one-iron again. Palmer took his driver. He made two observations about that choice of club: one at the time to a startled companion was to the effect that to have taken a one-iron at that point would have seemed to him chicken-hearted; the other, made later with the slightest of twinkles in his eye, was simply that he wanted to see whether in that particular situation he could drive straight. This attacking quality in his game is something absolutely special to him and genuine.... One has to be careful not to make sweeping generalizations, and 'the greatest competitor' could easily be taken as such. But I should have no hesitation in naming Palmer the most aggressive player in the world."

But where do you draw the line between being aggressive and being foolish? The detractors of Palmer as a golfer say that if he were less aggressive he would have won a lot more championships; two more Masters and perhaps two U.S. Opens, to cite quick examples. I think the answer to them is simple. Were he less aggressive, he might never have won any championships. And there is considerable evidence to bear this out.

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