What they said: Arnold Palmer

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March 21, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

Courtesy ASAP Sports.

MARK STEVENS: Thank you for being here today. On my left here is Mr.Chris McWilton, he's the president, U.S. markets for MasterCard; and we have Mr. Arnold Palmer, who is the host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational; and Commissioner Tim Finchem from the PGA TOUR.

We are going to start off, Mr. Finchem if you can make some opening comments and we'll hand it off to Mr. McWilton.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you, and good morning, everyone. I'm delighted that you explained to everybody who Arnold was. That's a good first step as we get started here.

Let me just make a couple of comments about the Arnold Palmer Invitational from the perspective of the PGA TOUR and I know Chris has an announcement to make. This partnership between Arnold Palmer and the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital and MasterCard goes back now I guess nine years. During those nine years, this very special vent on the PGA TOUR has gotten better and better in a lot of different ways and I would like to just comment about a couple of them.

First of all, the partnership with MasterCard has been terrific from our perspective, the working relationship between Chris and his people and the staff here at the tournament has been great, and it's delivered a lot of value to all of the stakeholders in the event.

Secondly, the work that's been done with the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital is very, very special. It grows every year. And Arnold, it's a year-long endeavor every year for Arnold personally and his family; but for the tournament to be able to tell the story about what's happened there, adds a lot of texture to what the PGA TOUR represents and what it's all about.

I'd also like to comment on the golf course, because the work that Arnold and his staff have done on the golf course just these last few years, has put this in a category of excellence that is at the pinnacle of the PGA TOUR from a performance and competitive standpoint, and I think that's punctuated this year, because it's in absolutely perfect condition; I've talked to a lot of the players.

So we are looking forward with the good weather forecast and the condition of the golf course to another great week. But fundamentally, this is Arnold Palmer's tournament. He has put his heart and soul into it for decades. And as such, it takes its place every year at the very top of what is special about the PGA TOUR as an invitational event, and the event of the man who is probably more impactful on where the PGA TOUR is today than anybody in history.

I think all of the players, all of tournament, all of our sponsors and our charities are indebted to him for what he's meant to the game and what he's meant to the PGA TOUR.

And as we look forward, and we are excited about the future in a lot of different ways, we are looking forward to Chris's announcement, and I'll turn it over to Chris. And as I do, Chris, thank you for your commitment and your efforts, and we look forward to years to come.

CHRIS McWHILTON: Thank you, Tim, and thank you everyone for coming out this morning.

We are happy to announce this morning, as you can probably imagine, that we have just entered into an agreement to expand and extend our sponsorship of this great tournament for another four years through 2016.

As I've said many times, there are lots of sponsorship opportunities that MasterCard is presented with around the world. But this one, it's a very easy decision to make, to continue the relationship with Mr. Palmer, Bay Hill, and the TOUR around this event because of the great things it does for the hospital.

I was at the hospital on Monday when a new expansion of the neonatal unit was announced; 30 more beds, is that right, Mr.Palmer, to make it the largest neonatal intensive care unit in the country. So when we can help with that; it's no fun seeing children that are sick, and anything that MasterCard can do to make their experience and their lives better through support of this foundation is certainly something that we look forward to continuing.

We are also making a little bit of a special challenge to our sponsor golfers, our golf ambassadors this week: Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Brandt Snedeker and Camilo Villegas; that if they happen to be on the 18th green on Sunday afternoon, being handed the trophy, we will make an extra $200,000 contribution to the hospital.

ARNOLD PALMER: (Smiling; giving enthusiastic thumbs?up).

CHRIS McWHILTON: So we thought that would be a nice challenge to our golfers, and we hope to see them there thank you Mr.Palmer for making this an easy decision for MasterCard. We look forward to great week and another great four years ago. Thank you.

ARNOLD PALMER: Thank you, Chris. That's pretty good. You guys all heard that, so we are going to hold him to it.

Well, this is wonderful. It just continues with something that has been very, very good. The hospital is thriving. And of course what Chris just mentioned, the new neonatal intensive care unit with the addition is very important to all of us. And as you know, the Arnold Palmer hospital and Winnie Palmer Hospital and the Medical Center turns no one away.

So all of that is one of the great things that's happening out of this tournament, and something that makes us all very happy. And to have Tim here and Chris, to make these announcements is also kind of a landmark and something that we are all very pleased and proud about.

So with the announcement of the four more years and of course Mr. Finchem and the PGA TOUR working closely with MasterCard and our sponsors, I am most appreciative of all the things that are happening. Thank you very much.

Q. Chris, you talked about how you are going to expand and increase your presence at the tournament. Could you talk about that a little bit, how you're going to do that??

CHRIS McWHILTON: I think as you walk around the course today and around the clubhouse, and look at the opportunities for consumers to use their MasterCard to get a better experience at the tournament, whether it's discounts on food purchases; it's access to hospitality tents; it's concierge services we added this year.

We wanted to make this event a place where you don't even think of coming unless you have a MasterCard (laughing). We worked with our sponsorship team and the team here at Bay Hill to make sure that when people walk through the gates, they are thinking MasterCard and they are getting additional benefits as a consumer for carrying our card.

Q. That was actually kind of my question but I'll think of another one. (Laughter) Seriously, you mentioned the many opportunities that you have in golf and in sports to sponsor various things. I'm just wondering how much of what you're doing here is responsible just because of MasterCard's interest in golf and how much of it is Arnold himself.

CHRIS McWHILTON: Well, obviously Mr. Palmer is a legend, and what he brings to us as a brand is very important to us. We talk about MasterCard being at the heart of commerce. So it's not just about the monetary aspects of our business, but it's about doing things to make people's lives better and to make commerce easier and to have some emotion behind it.

So if you know Mr. Palmer, as I've got to know him over the past five years, there's definitely a heart on this. It's not just a commercial venture. It's not just about making money. It's about the spirit that he brings to this experience.

So there are sponsorship opportunities around the world that we get presented with that just don't have that heart to it. We are selective in making sure that we have put our dollars in the best place.

So do our consumers like golf? Absolutely. They love golf and they like to be near the game of golf and they like to be near the professionals that play, as you'll see at the Pro-Am today, and we actually have a number of arrangements with the PGA TOUR in terms of giving our card holders access to PGA properties; the TPC courses, etc. It all fits together, golf, Mr.Palmer, the heart of commerce, all seems to work really well in this venue.

MARK STEVENS: Now let's switch gears to the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year and have Mr. Palmer make some opening comments about the tournament this year and what he sees coming into the event.

ARNOLD PALMER: Of course I'm very happy to have the extension by MasterCard and it puts a lot of things to rest for the next few years. We will continue to work to make this tournament the best tournament on the TOUR.

And I mean that. With the hospital and the things that are happening there, I can't tell you how pleased I am to be able to say the things that the neonatal intensive care unit, the expansion of that, and the things that will happen in the next couple of years there, is something that is very, very important to us.

And of course, the hospital itself with all of the various units, whether it be heart, kidneys, you name it, we are striving to be the best. And that is also very important to me.

The tournament itself, this year is something that is really going to make, I think, history in the game of golf. The golf course itself is by far the best it's been any time in the 34 years that we've had this tournament. And I think the players realize that we are working hard to make this golf tournament one that will get everyone's eye and attention.

And through the years, we will continue to do the things that we are doing to make the golf course better, and to make the players come here and enjoy this competition. And I will entertain questions from you for a moment if you'd like.

Q. I think it's pretty well known that you have hundreds, if not thousands of putters in your garage and everything. I'm wondering, have you ever?? how often have you tinkered with a belly or a long putter and how close have you ever come to putting one in play? And what are your general thoughts about those types of putters?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, you're opening up a big subject there. Of course, I don't think there's ever been a club made that I know of that has not been in my bag. (Laughter) May not stay long, and the long putter is one of them. I'm not a fan of long putters.

I suppose that if I were playing, and a long putter, being totally legal, and would help my game, I might use it. But I'm opposed to it personally. I just think that there shouldn't be a place in the game for anchoring a club against the body, which is what the long putter does.

So, technically, and principally, I am against it. But would I use it if it were going to enhance my game in the competition? I might.

Q. There's going to be a change to the qualifying school this year, where Qualifying School graduates go to the Nationwide Tour instead of the PGA TOUR; so that's new. But could you refresh our memories on what it was like when you joined the TOUR, and what you had to do to get out on to the TOUR, because it was different then.

ARNOLD PALMER: Sure was. Well, first of all, there was -- on the PGA TOUR, which was the PGA when I came; it wasn't the TOUR, as we call it the PGA TOUR. It was the PGA, and the TOUR was run by the PGA. And of course the exemptions on the TOUR were kind of widespread. First of all, the National Amateur Champion of that current year, was exempt from qualifying. So I had that exemption from '54 to '55.

The other thing that was different was that most of the qualifying and the people who were making the TOUR that were not otherwise eligible were able to go to the site, enter the tournament, and qualify on a Monday. And every week, for the entire TOUR, there was a qualifying on Monday to get into the tournament; same number of players as there are today.

And that was available, and was very popular. As time went on and things changed -- well, you know what has happened since then but that was pretty much the system for qualifying. The same exemptions were in effect for the Open, the Masters, the British Open, you know, and so on down the line. And there were a number of exemptions for qualifying; or with certain money status, you could be qualified and get to play.

That changed from time to time, but it really expanded as time went on, and then of course, when the PGA TOUR came into effect, the whole thing changed.

Q. Given your goals for this event, how disappointing is it not to have Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald in the field, and how hard did you try to persuade them to play??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, yes, I'm disappointed that they are not here, no question about it. They are the top players on the TOUR right now in the positions that they are in, and I am disappointed.

I had a letter from Rory seeking my consultation and told me he wasn't coming. And of course that made me feel great. (Laughter) And if you believe that, I'll talk to you outside afterwards.

Yes, I'm certainly not happy that those fellas chose not to come this year. We are doing everything we can to entice them to come and play. When I think back over the years, when back in the early years of the TOUR and I went to the British Open to kind of enhance or to create additional interest in international golf; and to think that those people are now the top international players in the world, we like to have them here.

We have a wonderful field and we are very proud of our field, but to have a couple of the top players internationally and U.S. not here, I'm kind of sorry for that. But I think we can get that squared away and maybe we'll entice them to come in the future.

Q. A couple of weeks ago, Ernie Els played with Tiger when he shot 62 in the final round at Honda and said he thought Tiger was back. From what you've seen of Tiger lately, can you just talk about what you feel about his game and how close he is to being back to where he was three or four years ago??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, I haven't been close to Tiger other than what you do or what I do as far as reading the papers. I have not talked to him personally in some time. And I'm watching him swing and I'm watching him play, and I see some moments of the old?fashioned Tiger that is very good.

I see some swing changes from time to time that he is employing in his swing, and I question that. But I'm like everyone else in this room, or anywhere that's watching him play; we look for things that are different. And I see some difference in his swing.

But again, I can't tell you just what those things are or what he's thinking about how he's going to continue to play. I think he's strong enough and he's smart enough and he's got all of the equipment to do the things that he always did do, and I think it's just a matter of getting it in the proper order to make him play the kind of golf that he played in the past 20 years.

So you know, if I were making a prediction, I would say, look out, because one of these days, he's going to come back and play pretty good golf.

Q. We've seen a couple of examples, multiple examples this season of big leads lost and guys making big comebacks. Could you give us some idea of how difficult it is to close out a golf tournament and what are the traits that best suit a player for doing that.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, we are seeing some unusual golf this year. I think this is an exceptional year as far as closing out tournaments. You know, it's never in the history of golf, it's never been easy to win on TOUR. It's always tough. Looking at a field of 154 players, and you get down to the last 70 and then you get down to the nitty?gritty few coming up the stretch; it's tough. It can affect you in different ways, and it affect the different people in different ways.

We saw a great player, that is great player, and has been acclaimed as a great player, but you saw him make a couple bogeys the other day coming in. Well, that's unusual for a guy, and particularly like Ernie, who is a player of the calibre that he is. But you never know what's going on. Sometimes it's confidence in your game; sometimes it's just a mental lapse. But something can always happen that will put you off?track.

I look at guys, and my grandson, for example, I'll say "Sam, what happened, what did you do?"

He says, "I got nervous." He was honest about it. He got nervous, and it affected him.

What I have always contended, and of course the thing that I use myself, was to just have a system, play your system and practice your system, whether you're on the practice tee or whether you're coming down the stretch needing a couple birdies to win a tournament. And I've been there. I've done it, and I know that if I wasn't nervous, I wouldn't be there.

But when people say, oh, he got nervous; hell, I hope so, because that's what it's all about. You've got to get nervous and you've got to be able to control those nerves. But that is the bottom line, and there's not anyone that I have ever seen including Nelson, Hogan, Snead, all of the great players; Nicklaus, Player, that can say that they weren't nervous and they didn't feel the pressure of finishing a golf tournament, because it's there. And it is always there, and if it isn't, you're not there.

Q. Have you had a chance to watch Bubba Watson play, and when you do, what are your thoughts? And secondly, is there anybody that you can compare him to when you were on TOUR?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I've watched Bubba a lot, yeah. I think he's an interesting and exciting player. I think he brings back some of the memories that I've had of people like Ballesteros and some of those people that were kind of loose and wild, but good, great players. I think that that is a very exciting thing, and I think we need more of that excitement. Phil Mickelson gave us a little of that style of play over the years.

I feel that that's good stuff. Even the style of the Gene Littler style of down the fairway, on the green and a putt; we have them, but that's part of the game. That's what it's all about; the excitement of seeing a guy miss a shot and make a comeback shot, I think that's the fun of the game.

Q. You talked about having a system. What was your system, other than go for broke? (Laughter).

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I developed a system early in my career, and I played to it. And when I was in trouble or when I was coming down the stretch, I relied on my system.

And rather than getting into the details of the system I used, it all was started with the basic fundamentals of the game. And my system dwelled on the basic fundamentals, whether it was a strong grip, a weak grip, which I started out in a strong position and then as the years went on went to a weaker position with my grip. That's helped me accomplish the things that I wanted to accomplish.

But most important, that I had that system that I could rely on. And I practiced the system all the time. I didn't just go hit balls on the range and try to hit it down to the flag or to the caddie or whatever. I think that that has something that I developed my system to do.

One of the things that was very important I felt was the fact that we used to have caddies pick up the shag balls. Well, you have the same thing now, but you have it in the form of a flagstick out there or a target. But in the older days, we had caddies with the bag out there and they picked up the balls. So we were hitting to a target all the time. I had a caddie that caught the ball with a baseball glove all the time.

Gary Player used to tell the story about, he says, "Arnie hits it so good, the caddie hits it here with the glove, here with the glove. Sometimes it hits him right on the head, and before he gets up, he hits him again." (Laughter).

Q. You actually just segued very well in my question. I was going to ask you, Gary Player joins you and Jack Nicklaus at Augusta this year for the ceremonial opening tee shot. Can you talk about what it will be like to have the three of you together again??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, you know we are all pretty good friends. We have been playing golf and doing what we are talking about all our lives, in our adult lives on the TOUR. We have played competitions against each other constantly. We have played teams together; I played with both Jack and Gary as team members. And to do this at Augusta is going to be a big thrill. I think it's fun. I think it's good for the Masters. I hope the people enjoy it.

I don't think that everybody understands what it's like to stand on the first tee at Augusta and hit the beginning shot. That is something that other than winning the Masters or being there when it's counting, that's one of the big thrills of all time; to see the people; to have the Chairman introduce us all; and get into it and start the Tournament is something that I've enjoyed.

I didn't think I ever would when they talked about it in the beginning, but I guess age has a lot to do with that.

Q. You talked about Tiger and you suspect, as many people do, that it's only a matter of time before he starts winning again. With Augusta rolling around and his history there and the relatively small size of the field, do you believe that that represents his best chance to get back with a victory with a major; why or why not??

ARNOLD PALMER: I don't know whether I would put it in the best chance category. I think Augusta is tough. It's a trying situation and the field is a wonderful field. It's a very hard field to think that it makes it easier because it's smaller. I'm not so sure that even is in the cards for what is going to happen.

I think that to win, you have to be on top of your game at Augusta, and there's no question about that. And so Tiger will have to be. Does it make it more likely that he'll win there? Only in that he will probably work very hard to get his game and his personal in shape to win. There's certainly that possibility. That's kind of the prize at the end of the rainbow, and that's what he's going to have to work for.

Will he win? I don't know. I'm not sure that I could say that he's in that good of shape right now, but I know he's working for it.

Q. Apologize it's not quite tournament-related, but I heard that the club, the golf club that stayed in your bag the longest is a driver that was given by the late Ben Hogan. I was just curious to see if you can share that story, what that club meant and how long exactly that you used that club.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that club was given to me by Hogan. He gave me a number of drivers at Augusta way back in the early days of his golf clubs. Of course, it's obvious that people knew that I had adjusted that Hogan driver, but it was one of his personal drives. That driver is now at Cherry Hills in the clubhouse.

I have?? well, I've used it through most of the years in the 60s and had some of my best years and best driving with that club.

Q. What are some of the loudest cheers you've ever heard at Augusta??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course there was a couple years there that were pretty good ones when I made putts at 17 and 16. I think one of the biggest cheers I ever heard was when I've hit it over the green at 16 and I was under the TV tower and Demaret was talking up on top of the tower, and he was describing what my shot was going down the hill.

And I could hear him. And I waited a little bit, and he kept talking, and I kind of get somebody to sort of slow him down a little bit. And finally I decided, oh, well, what the hell, I'll just go ahead and play the shot. But what he had said was, "He has no chance from here. He's probably?? if he gets it up and down, it will be a small miracle."

Well, when I hit it, it rolled down and went in the hole. That cheer, people seemed to know what was going on. They couldn't hear him, but they just seemed to have a feeling for the tenseness that was going on. And when it rolled in the hole, that was one of the big cheers I've ever heard.

Q. During some of your charges in let's say 1960, 1962 when you were kind of coming back, could you hear a cheer on the course and know what it was and who it was for without seeing a board??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, you know if you're doing your thing and paying attention to what you're doing, you hear those cheers and a lot of the time you don't really recognize or pay attention to what they are all about.

I won't say that I didn't hear some, and then get a pretty good idea of who it was that was doing it. Yes, you listen and you see. I can't be specific on the ones that I heard was Nicklaus or Hogan or Player or someone like that. But I heard them from time to time. And did they affect me? I'd like to think they didn't, but I won't say they didn't.

Q. In your work to make this course the best that it possibly can be, how do you balance the ability for your players to make birdies and make a good run like that with being challenging and even being penal for bad shots??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, if you are aware, we did the golf course here a couple of times; we changed it a little bit. We made 4 a par-4 and 16 a par-4. And it was fine. That was a little different. We were looking to make the golf course more challenging and make the players work a little harder to shoot the scores. And after looking at it and looking at what we had done, I came to the opinion and the feeling that the galleries and the people watching on television and all of the things that were happening, they would rather see the players making birdies than bogeys.

After giving that careful consideration, we moved those holes back to par 5s. And I'm very pleased that we did. Now you see them play -- I go over there and watch them myself on those holes to see the guys go for the green on 16 or how they are going to play 4. And they have an opportunity to pick up a shot; it makes it more fun than seeing them make bogeys, and that's the way we did it.

Q. On Rory McIlroy, I wondered if he had ever approached you for advice, and as he heads back to Augusta after his notorious unravelling 12 months ago, whether there are any qualities that you believe he still need to learn.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think he has handled himself very well. I don't know him really well; I know him and have talked to him a little bit. But I think he has done a wonderful job with 22 years old and starting a career like he has just gotten launched onto. I had a letter from him as I mentioned earlier, and talking about coming up and having a talk with me. I'm not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me, but I look forward to seeing him and talking to him. And of course, as I said, I'm sorry that he isn't here. But he has mentioned -- he also mentioned in the letter that he will be here to play in the years to come.

Q. In your response to Doug about Demaret and your chip-in, could you tell me what the conversation was between you and Demaret when you saw him afterwards??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, we were having a drink and we were just talking about it. And of course, I said to him, "Jimmy, did you know I was down under there listening to what with you were saying?"

He says, "I had no idea. I didn't think you could hear me." But he says, "Obviously it didn't hurt you."

Q. And the second question is, have you ever had in your career situations where your putter just didn't work the way you wanted it to, and how did you turn that around??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that's a great question. I don't think anyone has ever played the TOUR and played it as long as I have with not having a balky putter. Sure, it happened to me.

Some of the things that I did were advice from my father. And George Low was one of the guys that kind of used to watch me putt a lot when I was practicing. He would always -- he never really gave me a lot of instruction. That was not the point. The one thing George used to do was say, "Man, you're the greatest putter in the world." Well, that was probably what I needed, somebody to give me confidence in the fact that I could putt.

And then there were little things, like I'd like to think that many, many years ago when I was starting to play and putting and practicing a lot, I was the first to use the reverse overlap. And of course, no one can say that I started it or someone else started it, but that became very popular. And today, as you know, most of the guys use a reverse overlap on their putter grip. Changing that from time to time was one of my systems for kind of reviving my putting.

The other thing that Low said to me one day, he says, "When you're a little nervous and you're having a little trouble with your putting, just put your nail of your thumb on your left hand in the grip," like that, and I tried it.

I remember I was playing in the Western Open and I had about a 4?foot putt to win the Open, and I felt kind of shaky. I was trying to get myself in order, and I thought, well, what the hell, I'll try that. And I put that thumb up and took a few strokes and I walked over and took the putt and knocked it in the hole to win the tournament.

Q. There's a rumor going around that you periodically do some minor changes to this golf course just because they are there. What did you do between last year and this year? Was there anything done at all?

ARNOLD PALMER: We did not. We didn't make any major changes, and very few minor changes. We worked on the sand traps a lot, and we have worked on the golf course generally. And of course, Matt Beaver, our superintendent, who has just been on the job a few years now, has done a wonderful job. He has put the personal attention into the golf course; there are very few ball marks on the greens now, and the fairways and the greens and the fringes are hand?watered, which is a little added expense, but it isn't that much. And it's that personal care that has made one of the biggest change in the golf course in years.

Q. Doug Ford finally went into the Hall of Fame last year. Is there somebody from your generation who you think has been overlooked and deserves the honor??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, Doug has been a great player for many, many years, and certainly he's a little older than I am, but he played some very fine golf. And yes, I suppose that they have skipped a little time when they might have recognized him a little earlier. But it's there, and that's important.

Q. With golf losing over a million players over the last year, what would your message be to the paying public to come back and play golf, and how do you think the Arnold Palmer Invitational can help that??

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that's a good question. We are doing everything we can to encourage people to come back to play. I think the PGA TOUR, Tim Finchem, with The First Tee Program; one that will create additional interest. They are raising $100 million.

One of my objections to The First Tee was that it was not endowed, and I didn't become a trustee for that reason. And of course, now they are endowing it, and I have become a trustee, and I will do everything I can to help make that First Tee Program be the kind of a program that goes on and on.

You know, I hit to see someone open up a teaching facility for kids that can't otherwise be out there playing golf, and to see it go and make it happen and to continue to go; I hate to see them close and go to hell.

So that's what this is all about, this endeavor. They are going to fund these programs and make sure that they continue to go. That will have a tremendous influence on, it, might be the parents of those kids, that will be interested in golf and become more and more interested.

And I think that that's something that will continue to happen and enlarge the capacity for increasing golf throughout the United States and the world, and I'm also enthused about the Olympics and the fact that that is going to be a program that will create additional interest internationally, as well as here at home.

MARK STEVENS: Mr. Palmer, thank you for your time and thank you for being a wonderful host.

ARNOLD PALMER: Thank you all for being here.

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