In the past four years two controversies of consequence have arisen concerning Arnold Palmer and his golf game. The first is the contention that his business activities have so dominated his time and drained his energy that he can no longer play his best. The second is the argument that he plays too boldly, that his attacking style on a golf course has cost him more than it has gained him. There are logical grounds for each of these positions, but Arnold feels quite strongly that they both are wrong—and so do I.
In the first matter, I, Mark McCormack, am the specter on the American sporting scene. I am "the man with the briefcase" who is destroying the career of Arnold Palmer by dashing out on the green with papers for him to sign just when he is about to putt for the U.S. Open championship. As far as Arnie's Army is concerned, I am an enemy guerrilla force and if I would just let their man play golf he would win 35 times a year.
The truth, I am convinced, is quite the contrary. I am confident that Arnold's business responsibilities have not hurt his golf, and it is a matter of personal comfort to me that Arnold now shares this feeling. Admittedly, this has not always been the case. Not at all.
One reason that Arnold's business activities became an issue was that he, on numerous occasions, brought them up with the press. Writers found what he said was interesting and reasonable, so they wrote a great deal about it. For example, at the 1963 Masters Arnold was saying, "My outside interests, not golf, affect me. I am mentally tired. From now on I am going to take more time off the tour. When I'm on the tour I will be strictly interested in golf." By the Tournament of Champions he was saying that he had "asked McCormack to cut down on my other activities so that I can get my game into shape." At the same time other golfers were picking up the theme. "Something has happened to Palmer's swing," said Bill Collins. "He has lost some of his confidence. I think he may have too many outside interests going for him." Doug Sanders said, "Arnold is not able to concentrate as well as he has been."
Since that time there has been no letup on the idea that Palmer is too busy getting rich to play his best golf, a theme that reached its peak in the fall of 1966 when Arnold took a physical examination and was advised—with much publicity—to slow his pace. A New York columnist was moved to write a personal appeal to Arnold to slow down, saying, "Arnie probably doesn't realize it, but he does have an obligation to golf, which made him, and to fans, who have supported him to the hilt. He is a beloved competitor...but he will be abrogating his obligations if he burns himself out at this stage of a career that could go on for many more years."
But by then Arnold was seeing things differently. Last winter he confided to a friend what he really thought about the subject. "You have to have an alibi," he said. "When you play badly, you must have a release that lets you convince yourself it is not your fault. Business pressure has been my alibi. Some golfers try to blame things on camera clicks or bad luck, and others will tell you they are unhappy because they would rather be home with the kids, or fishing, or that golf is not their whole life, so they don't care that much about winning or losing. These are all excuses. I can tell you that it isn't easy to be No. 1. I have been on top for nine years, and it would be interesting to see what would happen to some other people in the same circumstances. It is being on top that wears you down and affects your game."
I agree. Arnold obviously plays under more pressure than any golfer who ever lived. But the pressure has not been the result of business worries. Rather, it is caused by the prestige he has earned and is striving to protect. Every time he steps on the tee in a tournament or exhibition, he not only is expected to win but to do so in convincing or dramatic fashion. For a long time Arnold has been in the difficult position of playing against the record book—which is much tougher than playing for money. When Arnold has lost a championship that it seemed he was in command of, it was often the result of attempting to do something special for his admirers or for history or for his own relentless pride. As he says, "It wears you down."
On the other hand, I think that his business organization has been, in part, his salvation. He has his own hidden army—one of lawyers, secretaries, salesmen and promoters—that shields him from much of the worry that the public thinks he experiences. Since early 1960 Arnold has won six of the major championships. In the normal course of events, winning even one of these puts strains on a professional golfer that he is hard pressed to cope with. He wants to take maximum financial advantage of his win, but he is faced with perplexing economic decisions that he has no experience in handling. He is swamped with demands, and he fears he is making wrong moves that may be costing him thousands upon thousands of dollars—which is sometimes the case. This is the player who cannot concentrate on golf. I think it is meaningful that the three top golfers I represent—Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—have won 15 major championships since 1960, while no other golfer has been able to win more than one. I like to think that peace of mind concerning their business affairs is a contributing factor to their success on the course.
Arnold's business activities, excluding his golf-club company, to which he gives much consideration but which he also much enjoys, are not overly time-consuming. He plays some 15 to 20 golf exhibitions per year, which we generally arrange and manage much as a concert promoter would. We will go in, make an agreement with a local charity and play for part of the gate, using the personnel of Arnold Palmer Enterprises to advise the local group on crowd control, gallery, marshaling, ticket pricing, what to sell periscopes for, how and when to use programs, and promotional things of that sort.
In the past few years Arnold has participated in television shows. For two years he made Challenge Golf, and followed that with three years of Big Three Golf. The filming of these does take time, but it is generally scheduled in the fall, when most of the tournament pressure is off.