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."