Mr. Palmer

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I have never been a good golfer. In fact, I have not played in four years. However, my dad introduced me to the game as a young man and the one thing I do have is a respect for the traditions of the game of golf. As a high school guy, I had the opportunity to attend the PGA National Team Championship at Laurel Valley here in Western Pa. Dr. Anthony Nicolette and his two sons Richard and John were all friends of mine from the neighborhood and Dr. Nicolette was Arnold Palmer’s eye doctor. When the team event was at Laurel Valley, Dr. Nicolette piled us all into his car and off we went to see the best golfers in the world compete. It was there that I had the chance to meet the great Arnold Palmer. Mr. Palmer to us.

Golf: Thunderbird Classic Invitational: Arnold Palmer smoking cigarette during Friday play at Westchester CC.  Rye, NY 6/14/1963 CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X9294 TK1 C12 F19 )

Golf: Thunderbird Classic Invitational: Arnold Palmer smoking cigarette during Friday play at Westchester CC.
Rye, NY 6/14/1963
CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X9294 TK1 C12 F19 )

As young bucks, Richard and John and I were star struck as Mr.Palmer conversed with their dad. Doc N then always introduced us and with an intent, interested, look, Mr. Palmer shook our hand and asked how we were enjoying the day. His handshake was strong and his demeanor sincere as if we were all he had to think about at that moment. We were part of his army and he wanted to make sure we were having a good time.

A few years later, I had the opportunity to marshall at the US. Open at Oakmont. I have posted on the experience before but I remember Johnny Miller floating up the fairway in total concentration looking at no one in the gallery. Jack Nicklaus stared down most people in the gallery with a competitive steely eyed look that almost made you feel uncomfortable. Arnold Palmer, on the other hand, stopped to talk to all of the marshalls on our hole while waiting to take his shot. I remember him asking me where I was from and again, was I enjoying the tournament? Arnold Palmer, asking me, if I was having a good time while he was in the thick of the hunt for the US Open! That is the kind of guy he was and we lost a good man this week in Western Pennsylvania when he passed away on Sunday.

25 MAR 2013:   Tiger Woods shares a laugh with Arnold Palmer as Woods holds the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

25 MAR 2013: Tiger Woods shares a laugh with Arnold Palmer as Woods holds the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

There has been a lot written about the man this week by some very eloquent journalists and folks who knew Arnold Palmer very well. I do know he was a kind man, a benevolent person with the March of Dimes and building a children’s hospital in Orlando. I know he was a mentor to young players for many years including Tiger Woods. But as the writers say, he made golf accessible to the common man. This included young guys like Richard and John and me who were amazed at the time that he afforded to us and his friendly relationship with his eye doctor with whom no request was too much. He made sure Doc Nicolette was given primary parking, marshalling duties with Laurel Valley attire, dining privileges and on and on, personally attended to by Arnold Palmer himself. He took care of Doc Nicolette and didn’t leave it up to his assistant. That is the kind of person we saw when we had interaction with this legend from Latrobe, Pa. arnold-palmer-2016-masters

He is gone now. But his legacy will live on and his benevolence for charitable causes will also continue because of his personal attention to detail. No wonder the “army” followed him faithfully years into his career. You always knew where Palmer was on the course. Richard and John and I have him etched in our memory forever because of his kindness to us and his eye doctor. RIP Mr. Arnold Palmer. Thanks for reading.

What constitutes World Class?

I have probably had the same experience that many of you have when I have encountered what we call world class athletes or individuals. I categorize the experience in one of four ways. First- I am sure we have all met world class individuals whose reputation precedes them. For instance, I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting people like Arnold Palmer, Art Rooney Sr., Olympian Frank Shorter, childhood heroes like Roberto Clemente, Vernon Law, Bill Virdon, and other Pittsburgh Pirates of a bygone era. They were larger than life and when I met them, I was a bit in awe because of their reputations. golf_e_arnold_576
The second type of encounter is what I would call seeing the world class athlete in action. We have all seen pro football and baseball games and marvel at the athleticism of these individuals from the seats in stadiums. I have been fortunate enough to see Tiger Woods on the practice tee at PGA events. I have seen World Cup skiers like the Crazy Canucks at the Hahnenkamm downhill ski race in Austria.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA I have seen the women and men at the World Cups. I will never forget seeing Perine Pelen of the French National team take a slalom section unlike anything that I would have ever imagined. So fast and fluid. I had the pleasure of caddying for Ben Crenshaw at the US Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club when he was a student at the University of Texas. To see him hit a golf ball and tote his bag while witnessing intense focus on the golf course was enlightening. I was a marshall at the US Open when an extremely focused Johnny Miller won and set the course record at Oakmont.14d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415c I have witnessed Lance Armstrong ride up Sycamore Street in the Thrift Drug Classic here in Pittsburgh several years ago before his cancer. My brother in law who said to me,” I thought you quit riding bikes when you were 14″ marveled at the athleticism and conditioning of the world class cyclists at this event. It opened his eyes for sure seeing that he only thought athletes put on pads and hit people.
Ratchet up the experience one more notch and I have been fortunate enough to participate in an event or a venue where I have witnessed a world class athlete perform with me alongside. I had the pleasure of riding with Greg LeMond at charity cycling events.DSC00468 80 miles a day with the 3 time Tour de France champion. He was not in TDF shape at all and older, but you could still see the strength in his thighs on the flats and the speed at which he took turns on the road. I have skied behind Phil Mahre the ex World Cup ski race champion and Olympic gold medalist. It was amazing to me to see his really strong turns skiing right behind him. No skidding, just pure carved turns leaving trenches in the snow behind him. His strength was amazing. Riding the chairlift with him was enjoyable as he told tales of the World Cup and the U.S. Ski Team.hqdefault I have raced in club road cycling criterium races where people like Matt Eaton ( former US National Champion and Britain’s Milk Race champion) come flying by me on the inside giving me pointers and instructions as he led the pack. The club races often combined classes and it gave us normal racers a chance to ride with the good guys. It was amazing to witness the speed and technical ability in which they took the turns in the race with a tight pack of riders all around.
So what actually makes an athlete world class? Like “epic” and “extreme”, “world class”, is often overused but a truly world class athlete is an individual that has devoted his or her life to their sport. They are often singularly focused and have been willing to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. Oftentimes, their focus has caused them to be selfish or self serving but in order to achieve, sometimes you have to have that “take no prisoners” attitude in order to be successful. But in my mind, a truly world class athlete or individual is one who can encompass all the attributes of athleticism but has a perspective on the world around them which supports their efforts. Take Joan Benoit Samuelson- the 1984 Olympic Marathon Women’s gold medalist.maine-joan-benoit-samuelson I had the good fortune of meeting her at the Boston Marathon Nike Expo. She had been in the booth a long time and when I finally made it through the line to meet her, I told her that her former ski racing coach Jace Pasquale said hello. Joan stopped whatever she was doing and was truly interested in how Jace was doing. We chatted for what seemed an eternity only about Jace. Joan was not focused on her reputation or accomplishments, only what was going on in the life of her old ski coach. She was so pleasant and unassuming that I walked away thinking to myself,” what a nice, non- self centered person.”
There are a lot of world class athletes like Joan Benoit Samuelson who use their talents and reputations to serve others. Joan is involved in many charitable causes in New England. There are also those athletes who do not focus on life outside of their sport. The impressive thing to me is to meet or see in action those that do care and think about life outside their athletic box. We may not have the talent, time, or willingness to be a world class athlete. But in my mind, we can be a world class person by caring for someone in need, being a friend to someone who is down in the dumps, sharing our knowledge about our favorite sport or hobby with someone who is just starting out. To me, we can be world class by caring. That is a trait that is not limited to athletes but can be applied to all of us who have a world class attitude towards others with whom we come in contact. Be world class!! Thanks for reading.

Know the Rules!

AP570722027_t62014d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415cGOClogo-shannopin-country-club Its funny, people come up to me and ask if I play golf? I respond,” only if I have to.” I am a little too nervous and jerky for golf and I always remark that if they could pitch the golf ball to me, I might do better. In any event, outside of the occasional 9 holes for fun with Janet(my wife), I really don’t play much golf. However, I do have a history of sorts with the sport. I rented clubs at Ballybunion, the famous course on the west coast of Ireland, and promptly lost 6 balls on the first 6 holes because the rough was so high. I ended up returning the clubs because the shop was closed and walked the rest of the course just to see it. Very scenic but not a place for me to play golf.

When I was a kid, my dad played golf at Shannopin Country Club in Pittsburgh and being a child of the depression, he was father enough to say that,” I play golf here- you can work here.” Which is what I did, parking cars, working in the kitchen, and most of all caddying. Being a caddy was an enlightening endeavor in that you met the most interesting people and see how they react under competitive circumstances. Take the good guys- Gene Sutherland, Don McClelland, Bill McClelland, and whatever victim they could find as their fourth. My friend Tom Herder and I would park in the lot at about 3:00 AM so we could be the first on the list to assure two rounds of doubles on any given Saturday. If we were given these guys, we were assured of balls right down the middle and hilarious comments in the midst of a very competitive and financially lucrative competition. These guys would try to beat each other each weekend, get a shot and a beer at the turn, press the bets, and then continue the competition at the card table playing gin late into the night. If I was on the winning side, I got a nice tip. If not, they were still generous but not happy.

The other caddying experiences were not as fun with the hackers spewing drives and errant iron shots into the woods. If I found one close to the out of bounds marker, I would kick it back in bounds to keep the round going and also assure a nice tip because of the pleasant experience of finding a surely out of bounds ball miraculously in bounds. Smiles abounding and a nice financial reward at the end of the day. The ladies days were another story. There were the good ones like Carol Semple who was a national amateur champion but most of the ladies who participated were, shall we say, challenged. I was always polite but when they asked me what to hit on their 19th shot on the hole, did it really matter? Oh well.

All of the time spent at Shannopin yielded me a nice benefit one year. John Conley, who was the golf professional, asked me if I wanted to work in his place as a marshall on one of the holes at the US Open at Oakmont in 1973. That was the year Johnny Miller set the course record with 63 on the final round. I marveled at his focus as he seemed to float through my hole just staring into the distance and visually acknowledging no one. He was in the “zone” and the 63 was remarkable. As a marshall, I was representing the local chapter of the PGA and had a PGA hat on my head along with an official Oakmont US Open 1973 shirt and slacks. I sure looked official even though I was 18 and didn’t look anything like a golf professional. The moment of truth came about when Lionel Hebert, a veteran tour professsional, hit his ball into the sand trap right in front of me. As he approached, my blood pressure started to escalate as he asked me if he could get some relief seeing that there was water in the trap. I looked for the USGA guy who was not in sight and fortunately I remembered the Rule Number 25 in the USGA Rules that addressed casual water. I remember from my caddy days that if you could bring up water by pushing your foot near the ball, it was considered “casual water” and the golfer would be granted a clublength relief. I stated this and Lionel Hebert stepped near the ball, brought up water, and looked at me. Fortunately the blue jacket and the gray pants of the USGA Official came into sight as I gave my opinion, he nodded that this was the right call and granted Hebert a clublength relief. Lionel placed the ball in a dry spot, took out an iron and sent the ball flying and thanked me for the ruling. I was relieved and the USGA guy nodded his approval and moved on. I couldn’t get off that course fast enough but what an experience for an 18 year old caddy and car parker from Shannopin. Whew!!!

Good thing my dad made me work as much as he did. It built character and understanding of life that I took with me to the box factory where I worked summers in my college years. It honed a work ethic that I have tried to pass on to my son Jack who is carrying the McCloskey torch with employment and soon, college. It all seems so long ago but Shannopin and the US Open at Oakmont are etched in my brain forever. Thanks for reading. Congrats to Bubba on his Masters victory. Back to the trail and woodsy stuff next week. Fore!!!!!