Meeting the King
To so many in the golfing world, is considered to be the most well-recognized, respected, and admired person to ever play this silly game. His smile warms us. His play excites us. His demeanor inspires us. Never have I heard so many stories of a single person where his generosity and warmth were in play at all times, with no inkling of a negative to be heard. Of course he dominated the great game of golf, becoming the King to “Arnie’s Army”, and so many other adoring fans across the world, but it is the man outside of the game that motivates me. Through his actions, he has taught me how to be a selfless person of great character with strong values and a knack for doing all that I can to better the lives of those I encounter on a daily basis.
I begin with this, to set up the day that I met the King. I am currently working as a seven-month intern for the . In 1999, Arnold Palmer, Dick Ferris, Clint Eastwood, and Peter Ueberroth joined forces to buy the company. Mr. Palmer has enjoyed playing Pebble Beach Golf Links for decades and played many times in the Bing Crosby Clambake, now known as the . When I started working at Pebble Beach, I knew there was a chance that I could run into Mr. Palmer.
I can thank CBS Sports Commentator, Jim Nantz, for giving me this moment. Mr. Nantz lives just above the Peter Hay Par-3 course at Pebble Beach. Follow the road past the Practice Facility and you will find his home tucked up in the beautiful hills of the Del Monte Forest. When building his dream home, he had a golf hole built in his backyard, perfectly mirroring the iconic seventh hole at Pebble Beach. On the course, the tee box is 110 yards from the hole, which points towards the beautiful Pacific Ocean; at Jim’s house everything is exactly half the size. The contour of the green is identical to the real thing and there are four hole locations on the green, each in the place of a US Open pin. Number seven is also the location where Mr. Nantz and his beautiful wife Courtney, said their wedding vows. This slice of heaven on earth holds a truly special place in his heart, but also gave me my moment with Arnie.
Mr. Nantz sought the help of Pebble Beach’s tournament staff to help him host a tournament to raise money for the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at Houston Methodist Hospital. The event was called The Calling to Pebble Beach and play was held at Spyglass Hill Golf Course and Pebble Beach Golf Links in a two-day event that raised nearly $1 million for charity. There were 135 guests in attendance, but only one got my heart racing.
My role for the event was to run the par three shootout. Each person participating in the tournament was allowed three shots to the golf hole. The top five qualified for a spot in the finals where they were in the running to win an entire set of new Titleist golf clubs. During our pre-party meeting and assignment explanation, Margo, a company employee, informed us that Arnold Palmer was moving “gingerly” and would be the only person allowed to have a car come up the drive way to park; the rest of the guests were shuttled up from The Lodge.
After the deliberation, I took my post far away from the driveway at the tee box of the hole. Being up high, I was hoping that I may just get to see the golf legend from afar. At that point, I justified to myself that simply being in the same vicinity as the King would suffice as a great moment in my life.
As the event got underway, I had about twenty guests come up to take aim at the back left pin location. Midway through the shots, I heard the crackling of tires on the pebbled driveway. I knew that sound indicated that Mr. Palmer had arrived. Out of the driver’s side door, I watched as Dick Ferris, co-owner of Pebble Beach and former CEO of Delta Airlines, exited the white Suburban. My eyes darted quickly to the passenger side just as the door cracked open and Margo opened the door. All that I could see was the top of a head, covered in white hair. As the door closed, it opened up a perfect line of sight, straight to Mr. Arnold Palmer. He stood for a moment as his wife, Kat, reached his side. He smiled and waved at the people. I overheard Margo ask Arnie if he wanted his name tag, to which he replied, “If I need a name-tag at this event, then I’m surely at the wrong place.” At the age of 85, Arnold was still as quick-witted as ever.
What amazed me was that in his tired and exhausted state, he stood in that same spot for nearly 20 minutes. Saying hello and shaking the hands of all who passed by to have their moment with the King. Meanwhile, my eyes were fixated on the legend. The thought that ran through my head as he stood there was that in this vast world, every single person at the event has been affected by this one man’s life in one way or another. And as powerful as the impact has been on all of us, he had no idea who I was. Not that that is a negative, but at that moment in time, I was just an employee at the party, standing atop a hillside. There was no way he understood the impact that his life and the way he went about it influenced and inspired me to chase my dreams and be the best person I could be.
Time passed, and Mr. Palmer kept smiling as he met all. Meanwhile, Mr. Ferris was walking up the front of the tee box in an attempt to leave his mark on the contest. I met him on his way up and re-introduced myself (we had met at the Partner’s event a week before). He remembered me and asked how I was doing. I laid out three golf balls for him to hit as he casually took some practice swings. Suddenly he said, “Oh great, Arnie’s going to come up here to heckle me some more.” My head snapped back as I watched a man help Arnie up this hill to the tee box. My simple moment of seeing him in person was about to get overshadowed by the handshake that I hoped would ensue.
Over halfway up the hill, I said in my head, “Screw it, I am going to meet him on the way up.” I began towards him and said, “Mr. Palmer, are you going to come give some course knowledge of the seventh hole?” To which he replied, “You know it,” with that Arnie grin. I extended my hand and said, “Mr. Palmer, my name is Tyler Clavin. It is a pleasure meeting you.” So gently he took my hand in his big mitt that you always hear so much about and said, “Tyler, it is a pleasure meeting you.”
We walked together up to the tee box, where he saw Mr. Ferris and did, as Dick anticipated, heckled him as he swung. “Don’t hit it left,” Arnie exclaimed as he swung the club. He removed his jacket and I could tell that he was looking for a place it could hang. “Mr. Palmer, I can hold your jacket for you,” I stated. He thanked me and I let it drape over my forearm.
By now the entire party had made their way up to the tee, surrounding it like it was the honorary first tee shot at Augusta National for the Masters. What added to the magic was that Jim Nantz, the voice of the Masters, stood behind me, microphone in hand. As the party-goers watched, in the background you could hear the theme song to the Masters on the sound-system below. Was this a movie? It sure felt like one.
Mr. Ferris took his last swing; as one of the four primary owners of the company, it was very exciting to watching him put his shot closer than anyone on the day. Five feet, one inch, a new leader. As he stepped off the tee box, he said, “Alright Arnold, get up there!” You could see the hesitation in Arnold’s eyes. After watching him at Augusta and listening to him talk at Bay Hill this past spring, I knew that he was exhausted and unable to move as he would like. But sure enough, he stepped upon the stage, all eyes fixated on the legend, like always. He took a 56-degree Titleist wedge off the silver club rack. Flipped it upside-down so the grip was where you would hit the ball. “Do I swing like this?” he asked. The crowd laughed and Arnie was center stage once again. I laid out his three golf balls. He set them in a perfect line and tapped the tops of each with the sole of his wedge. He took a timid swing and told us that this was his second swing of the year (we all knew his first was the shot that began the 2015 Masters tournament). He took the club back, waist high, and followed through with his left hand only. The athleticism was gone, but you could tell the feel still presided in his body. He stepped back repeatedly, cracking little jokes and asking, “How do I grip this thing?” Jim Nantz said, “Hey Arnold, why don’t you hold it like your dad Deacon showed you all those years ago.” Arnie smiled. Some would see Arnold and claim he was stalling, but it was mostly fantastic entertainment. 51 years since his last Masters victory, he could still captivate the crowd with his energy and humor. “Now I’ve won many tournaments in my life, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous to tee off as I am in front of you fine people.” I think he was being very honest. His mind knew what it took, but you could tell he didn't trust his body anymore. Nonetheless, he stood up and took his first swing. Solid contact, but it was a weak draw that flew into the greenside bunker. No one cared, it was such a wonderful moment.
He made a brief joke and stood up. The nerves were gone and you could see in his eyes he knew what to do. He gripped the club with soft hands and took a slightly open stance. Every phone was out and all eyes were locked on the King. I was trying to take it all in. Life moves so fast and I was aware of how special this moment was, not missing anything. Arnie took the club back, hip high with a slight wrist hinge. The club “thumped” the ground, ball first, and the ball soared through the sky. It started right and came back left toward the hole; a draw. The ball landed right at the pin with a big hop. It took off forward and rolled straight. THREE FEET, closest to the pin, Arnold Palmer! Jim Nantz exclaimed, “You can’t write this stuff, Arnold Palmer is the closest to the pin!”
Arnold turned and smiled, dropped the club on the tee box, and said, “I’m done!” Everyone was laughing, high-fiving, and talking about what they just saw. A perfect moment, once again delivered by the King. I just stood in silence watching his steps. He got to the edge of the raised tee box. I noticed he was hesitant to take the step and I quickly went over and said, “Mr. Palmer, let me help you down.” I extended my arm. He grabbed my shoulder and forearm, using me as support. I then gave him back his blazer and he said, “Thank you, Tyler.” This is the point in this story where I can no longer explain what I felt. I guess I was in awe, a speechless moment in my life, which happens so rarely. One man, a person who played the game of golf, has impacted me in more ways then he’ll ever know. He slowly sauntered down the pathway, shuffling his feet through the adoring fans, and disappeared.
What will never vanish is that memory and the magic I felt watching Arnold Palmer, at the age of 85, woo the crowd one more time. He captivated the audience with all that he did. I’m not sure if we will ever cross paths again, but I had my moment and am forever grateful. I am thankful for my parents giving me the guidance and help in my life. I am thankful for my previous employers, schools, and mentors I have had. I am thankful to my girlfriend who pushed me to be great. I am thankful for Pebble Beach giving me a once-in-a-lifetime experience to grow and learn every day. I am thankful for Mr. Nantz and his generosity to the cause and unmatched hospitality at his home. All the things in my life led me to that moment. My life has gone down a certain path just like Mr. Palmer’s. And in some amazing way, our roads joined up for those fifteen minutes and added to the already wonderful list of events that my life has been made of. I hope to only continue to grow as a person, working hard each day to better the lives of those around me. If I can be as generous with my time and actions, in any way that resembles what Mr. Palmer has done, I will know I have done well. I may never be a King, but my moment with Arnold Palmer is something I will always be thankful for.
- Story written by, PGA Golf Management Student, Tyler Clavin. Reprinted with permission