By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The affection was evident with every step Arnold Palmer took on Wednesday as he played in the Wells Fargo Championship pro-am.
And those fans wanted one more glimpse after Palmer finished his post-round interview session near the clubhouse at Quail Hollow. They called out his name repeatedly, trying to get his attention as he slowly trudged up the stairs.
"We love you, Mr. Palmer," someone yelled.
The man who is arguably the most popular player the game has ever known paused as he reached the landing, then turned and waved at the crowd to great applause. In a small way, it conjured up memories of Palmer's stop on the Swilcan Bridge during his last competitive round at St. Andrews.
"That was very flattering," the ever-humble Palmer said of the fan support. "They knew I wasn't going to play any kind of great golf, but it was fun. It was fun seeing the people. I saw so many old friends. That was the thrill for me, and it made ... it a nice day for me."
Palmer was playing with his grandson, Sam Saunders, and the owner of the Quail Hollow Club, Johnny Harris. Saunders, who played collegiately at Clemson, received a sponsor's exemption and will be making his 12th PGA TOUR start this week.
"It was great, seeing him play and getting a feel for what's going on in his life right now," Palmer said. "Of course you know I did it for 50 some odd years, and to see him now doing it and he's having a bit of a struggle, but I think he's going to do well. He's strong, he looks pretty good playing, and I look for him to do well this week."
Saunders' best finish in 2011 is a tie for 15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He also tied for 10th at the Panama Claro Championship on te Nationwide Tour.
The 81-year-old Palmer said Wednesday marked just his second round in the last 10 days. He and Harris played from the back tees -- "If you're going to do it, do it right, so we did today," Palmer said. "We played where we had no business playing."
Palmer, who played collegiately at Wake Forest, once made his home in Charlotte. The visit brought back memories of friends like the late Dick Tiddy, a Charlotte native who was a teammate of Palmer's and later worked as the director of golf at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge.
"This has been sort of a second home to me for many, many years, going back to my Wake Forest days," Palmer said. "... So there's a lot of reason for me to enjoy Charlotte."
And what did Palmer think of Quail Hollow, where he used to play in the Kemper Open and PaineWebber World Seniors Invitational?
"It played tougher than I've ever seen it play, but it's great," Palmer said. "I think it's set up for a real good tournament."
The Wells Fargo Championship has recruited a special guest to play in its Wednesday pro-am -- the legendary Arnold Palmer.
Palmer will be paired with his grandson, Sam Saunders, who received a sponsor's exemption into the tournament, and John Harris, the president of the host Quail Hollow Club. The threesome will tee off around 12:15 p.m. ET.
"We are honored Mr. Palmer will be joining us during the tournament and will be part of our pro-am," said Wells Fargo Championship Executive Director Kym Hougham. "Not only will Wednesday be a special day for all of the fans but it will be a memorable day in the history of this tournament."
Palmer, who is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, last played a public round of golf in Charlotte at the 2001 Home Depot Invitational held at TPC Piper Glen. He also played in the pro-am at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. earlier this year.
Palmer is extremely well acquainted with Quail Hollow and even oversaw the modification of several holes at the club in 1986. Palmer played in 10 Kemper Opens on the PGA TOUR held there with a best finish of a tie for fifth. He also competed in the Champions Tour's World Seniors Invitational on six occasions -- finishing second once and third twice among five top-10s.
NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson is also competing in the Wednesday pro-am while fellow driver Denny Hamlin will be playing in the Monday event. Johnson, who picked up his 54th Sprint Cup win earlier this year, drives the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. Hamlin, a 16-time champ, drives the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Honorary starters Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who’ve combined to win 10 Green Jackets, opened the 75th Masters by hitting ceremonial tee shots early Thursday morning at Augusta National.
It’s the second consecutive year the two legends have opened the Masters together.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – The marquee threesome at the Par 3 Contest has just teed off and between them, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player have 13 Masters titles.
Of the Big Three, Nicklaus has the most recent win in the season’s first major -- and that came 25 years ago when he was 46 years old. In fact, he’s playing the Par 3 Contest with a replica of the oversize MacGregor Response ZT putter he used in 1986.
* Kevin Streelman, who is playing in his first Masters, gave his caddie, Michael Christensen, the afternoon off. He will have his father on the bag at the Par 3 Contest instead.
* And so far, there’s only been on ace at the Par 3 and that came on the 130-yard first hole by Craig Stadler. It was the 73rd hole-in-one in the competition, which began in 1960.
* And don’t look now – but Luke Donald, who is ranked No. 4 in the world, is leading the Par 3 after shooting 5 under.
The Englishman is one of the pre-tournament favorites. So maybe Donald can buck the trend that no Par 3 winner has gone on to win the Masters in the same year.
At least the winner walks away with a crystal bowl.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Arnold Palmer never underwent a swing change in his career.
“I started with a pattern when I started playing the TOUR, and I stuck with it until today, and I will go with it today in the pro‑am and hope to hell I can hit it in the fairway and hope I can hit it longer than what I've been hitting it,” Palmer said. “I hit it so far these days that I hear it land.”
He also never had a swing coach, save for his father, Deacon.
“I saw him at least once a year for about 70 years, and he never changed anything” Palmer said. “He watched me for five minutes and went home. He put my grip on the club and my hands on the golf club when I was six years old and he said, ‘Boy, don’t you ever change it.’ Well, I haven’t changed it.”
Tiger Woods, who has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard six times, obviously has. The latest of those changes has not only drawn criticism from various circles, it’s surprised some, too -- including Palmer.
“I thought that the first few times that I played with him on the TOUR, way back when he first came out, and I thought he had a great swing and I thought he had a great posture in hitting the golf ball,” Palmer said. “And obviously it was, because he didn't win all of those tournaments without having those things.
“I'm a little surprised that he's changing his game or doing what he's doing to his game, which I'm really not sure what it is.”
One of the things Palmer did notice, however, is that Woods, who missed last year’s event while on hiatus, appears to be laying the club off a little more in his swing than in the past -- not that Palmer was being overly critical; it was just an observation he had.
That said, Palmer added that he feels like Woods is still capable of winning at any time, despite Woods having endured his worst season on TOUR in 2010 and with just one top-10 this year after a final-round 66 two weeks ago at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
“I feel like Tiger has a golf game that he can come to the surface any time,” Palmer said. “I think that's certainly a possibility here. He likes the golf course. He likes what we've done. So I would just not count him out at all.”
The last time Woods did win here was in 2009 when he sank a 12-foot putt on the final hole to beat Sean O’Hair by a stroke.
And another victory at Bay Hill could give Woods the confidence he needs heading into the year’s first major at Augusta National.
“If I was playing good and winning tournaments, I always felt pretty good going to Augusta,” Palmer said. “I think that's just a confidence builder to win a golf tournament, and I think that would apply to any player in the field. For a lot of years, I had won tournaments prior to Augusta. So that wasn't something that I worried about.”
The same could be said about Woods. -- Brian Wacker
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Don’t look now but Arnold Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, is climbing the leaderboard.
Saunders, who played at Clemson, started on the front nine and has played his first seven holes in 5 under. ( Click here to follow the rest of his round on Shot Tracker.)
Saunders is currently tied for second at 7 under with Padraig Harrington, Aaron Baddeley and Alex Cejka. Steve Marino leads at 10 under after making the turn at Pebble Beach in 3 under.
A local radio station was just doing a leaderboard update in the media center. The announcer, talking about the logjam at second, said, “and Sam Saunders, don’t know very much about that name.” Other reporters quickly explained the relationship to him, and the recording began anew.
Interestingly, Palmer never won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He finished second in 1966 and 1971, and had a total of four top-10s.
Saunders is competing in his ninth PGA TOUR event since turning pro. His best finish is a tie for 17th at last year’s Honda Classic. He missed the cut at the Bob Hope Classic is his only other start of 2011.
Scott Ostler, the columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, did a nice piece on Saunders earlier in the week. My favorite revelation was in the story was that while we call Palmer the “King” the family calls him “Dumpy.” That’s because when Saunders’ mother Amy was a little girl and her dad had had a bad day she’d try to call him “grumpy” but the word didn’t come out quite right.
Click here to read the whole article. – Helen Ross
The crowds at The Greenbrier have been good all week, and Thursday is no exception. Among the fans watching are the legendary Arnold Palmer and former NBA guard Bimbo Coles.
Palmer is in the gallery of his grandson, Sam Saunders, who is 3 over and playing the 18th hole.
Coles grew up in nearby Covington, Va., and played his high school ball at Greenbrier East in Lewisburg, W. Va. -- where Jim Justice, who owns the Greenbrier, coaches the girls team. He went on to play for Virginia Tech and was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team.
Coles played for the Miami Heat, Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. – Helen Ross
In case you were wondering, the largest come-from-behind victory at the U.S. Open came in 1960 when Arnold Palmer made up seven strokes to win at Cherry Hills.
Johnny Miller, who is doing commentary for NBC this week, trailed by six strokes when he won at Oakmont in 1973.
Obviously, it's early yet. But Edoardo Molinari is bidding to become the 12th man to win the U.S. Amateur and go on to capture the U.S. Open later in his career.
The 29-year-old Italian won the U.S. Am at Merion in 2005. He just made a double bogey at the difficult par-5 14th but he's still just two strokes off the lead at even par.
The last player to complete the U.S. Am-U.S. Open double was Tiger Woods. He won the 1994, '95 and '96 U.S. Ams and the 2000, '02 and '08 U.S. Opens. That 2000 victory also came at Pebble Beach.
The other players who have won both are Francis Ouimet, Jermone D. Travers, Charles Evans Jr., Bobby Jones, John Goodman, Lawson Little, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus and Jerry Pate. -- Helen Ross