One afternoon just after a round, I joined the group that surrounded Palmer and leaned in among them to ask if he had a moment. He looked at me quickly. I explained I was a writer. He said he was awfully busy. I was surprised by his voice, which was very clear and loud, almost a honk, the sort many public figures seem to have, as if their interlocutors were a bit deaf. I was shoved at by some people trying to get pieces of paper to him to sign.
He looked at me again. "I'm going out to the practice range to hit a few balls," he said. "You can talk to me out there if you want."
"That would be fine," I said.
I trailed him across the clubhouse lawn toward the range. His caddie, Bob Blair, moved on ahead. The crowd moved with Palmer, the hands with the slips of paper out, and he would collect a paper and cup it against one palm, bending slightly, and sign it. He signed a napkin. "What can they want with them?" he asked.
The napkin began to disintegrate under the pen. Palmer turned his body to shield the paper from the crowd.
"I'm going to send this to my son," the napkin man said.
We reached the practice range. Palmer stepped over a retaining rope and motioned me after him. I stood in front of him with my notebook out. The crowd pressed up against the rope, very quiet now, and respectful—craning to see. His caddie tipped a bag of balls, spilling them out, and then walked out on the range.
I was unnerved by the crowd, which had about 50 people in it. The notion of asking some of the more particular questions—the one on dreams, perhaps, or as a last resort the one about lesbianism on the women's tour—in front of that group was unsettling, particularly if the answers were to be delivered in Palmer's strong declamatory style. I stood shifting uneasily. I began writing busily in my pad, as if my function rather than to quiz him was to sketch a word portrait of him at practice. I looked at him only sporadically while he was concentrating on a shot, so that he wouldn't catch my eye and force me to ask something. I used up a number of pages, flipping them briskly. My notes read as follows:
He takes almost a minute between each practice shot—as if each is a separate challenge. He begins with the high-loft irons. He fishes a ball out of the pile in front of him, setting it up daintily with the toe of his iron on a raised lie.
When he hits, there is a rush of clothing in abrupt motion, a spray of dirt and the ball soars. We all stare at its flight. The sun is setting behind us. Blair shades his eyes. Ball lands just beside him. He jumps. Could not have seen it. Pops ball into bag. Shades eyes. Palmer fussing around. Strips cellophane covering from new club. Hefts it. Has 20 clubs or so lying in front of him to try. Is his touch really so sensitive that he can tell one of the clubs from another? Must ask. Clear throat to ask. Decide not quite right moment.