PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- In a way, Arnold Palmer is the Socrates of the modern golf world. Like Socrates inspired Plato and Plato inspired Aristotle, so Palmer inspired Jack Nicklaus who then inspired the Tom Watsons and the Tiger Woods of the PGA TOUR.
|Palmer and Pebble Beach for the 2010 U.S. Open|
Young Arnie, though, had a few memorable moments of his own with valuable teachers and professional golfers. As the co-chairman of the Walmart First Tee Open at Pebble Beach, he fondly recalls those times.
"My roommate at Wake Forest was (1947 U.S. Open winner) Lew Worsham's brother. I played with Lew a number of times. When I was younger, I played with pros at Latrobe in an occasional exhibition. It would be the great thrill of lifetime," Palmer said. "In college, just being around Lew, Lloyd Mangrum and some of the pros of that time was one of great thrills of my life and made a lasting impression on me."
He only hopes that the yearly Champions Tour event at Pebble Beach, where junior golfers from First Tee chapters across the country are paired with Champions Tour pros over age 50, does the same thing.
"I think it's fantastic because of the enthusiasm displayed by the young people, as well as the golf professional," Palmer said. "What an opportunity it is for the kids to play with some of these pros who display some great, fun-loving type golf. At the same time, they get a view of the serious side of the game while playing in a very good competition."
Jay Haas, a Wake Forest alum like Palmer, was one player who benefited from being around professional golfers while he was learning the game and the ropes on the PGA TOUR.
Haas remembers the first time he met Palmer. Haas' uncle, Bob Goalby, the 1968 Masters winner, introduced him to Palmer when Haas was about 10 years old.
"There was a tournament in St. Louis and Bob introduced me in locker room. I got an autographed ball. It was before there were Sharpies so it was with a ballpoint pen. I don't know if I still have the ball -- it was a Wilson Staff -- but the autograph didn't last for long on it," Haas recalls.
He also remembered the first time he ever played with The King. Haas was a freshman at Wake Forest and an alternate for the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club. When Roberto de Vicenzo withdrew, Haas earned a spot and wound up playing with George Knudson and Palmer.
"I was a freshman in college. Talk about intimidated. It was unbelievable. Arnold, at that time in 1973, that was the year of his last win, but who would have known that at the time? He was the man," Haas said. "Jack was in the picture but everyone loved Arnold, especially around Greensboro."
Haas understands that most of the juniors who are playing this week won't know who his uncle Goalby was. They may not know Sam Snead, Goalby's close friend and a player who Haas played with countless times as a young PGA TOUR player. It's players like his own son Bill Haas on the PGA TOUR, plus Tiger, Phil and Vijay, that The First Tee juniors can relate to, and Haas says that's the way it should be.
Still, he hopes that golfers young and old will continue to cherish golf's rich, vivid history.
"In a couple of tournaments we have, they intersperse legends into field without being in competition. Miller Barber, Don January, Gene Littler, Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Billy Casper. How 'bout those names? There's 150 wins maybe in that grouping, the who's who of when I was growing up," Haas said.
"We want to sit in the locker room and listen to their stories. Learn about these guys who really were gone before the media age of golf. That is very neat. Curtis (Strange) and I will sit and talk with January, Barber, Littler and they'll get a couple of cocktails in them and start telling stories and it's really pretty cool."
Haas hopes that the juniors this week will feel equally as comfortable talking to him and the rest of the pros. He says most are timid at the start of the tournament and leave the professionals alone, but gradually warm up and benefit from the camaraderie. The nerves are something Haas knows well.
"Coming out the first year on TOUR, getting paired with Nicklaus or Hale Irwin or Tom Watson, you're standing over these shots thinking, 'Oh boy, are they watching me?' I found out later on they didn't give a rip if I hit it or not. I found out they weren't watching me. They were concerned about their game," Haas said. "I think it's only natural to feel that. There was a long list of people I was very intimidated by."
Palmer helped to ease a young Haas' mind, as did Haas' relationship with his uncle and Sam Snead. Like Palmer helped a young Haas, he also has advice for the young pros this week.
It's quite simple and something he picked up from his own father.
"Be courteous, play tough."
Now that's a philosophy that would make Socrates proud.