Palmer’s legacy to live on with Champions
April 02, 2017
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- A long list of past Masters winners will carry on Arnold Palmer's legacy at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday night in Augusta. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Georgia – For the first time since 1958 the Masters Champions Dinner on Tuesday night will be missing Arnold Palmer – but those in attendance are determined to ensure his legacy lives on.
Palmer claimed the first of his four Masters titles that year and as such began appearing at the exclusive champions only dinner from 1959 – spending over half a century regaling those in attendance with his wonderful stories and infectious personality.
The swash-buckling 62-time PGA TOUR winner sat with the likes of Sam Snead, Bryon Nelson and Ben Hogan when he was a youngster and continued to break bread with them and other legends of the game like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros as his playing days wound down.
He then welcomed in the modern greats like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth – Mr. Palmer saw it all.
But his passing late last year means this Tuesday night in the Augusta National clubhouse will be missing one of its greatest voices.
As a tribute to Mr. Palmer – those champions who remain – expect to eat, drink and be merry in his honor.
Two-time champion Ben Crenshaw, who acts as an emcee of sorts, revealed they will indeed spend time celebrating their fallen friend.
The group will also honor the 20-year anniversary of Woods’ 1997 triumph.
“The dinner is about stories,” Crenshaw said.
“It is all fascinating and it weaves a fabric of a very exclusive club that is hard to get in to.”
And Palmer was one of the great story tellers. As such they feel it only fitting the tradition continues.
“I have a feeling it will be the greatest dinner we’ve ever had,” three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo said.
“We are going to have an amazing Tuesday night. I think it will be very emotional. I think everyone might get up and tell an Arnie story and that could provide a bit of everything from emotion, to laughter, to having a dig at Arnold.”
Players share memories of Arnold Palmer
Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 champion, is certainly grateful he experienced a few dinners with Palmer.
He expects to talk about his experiences as a young 20-year-old on TOUR when Palmer struck him so profoundly because he “was always so fun-loving.”
“He liked to have a good time even in the older years of his life and hung out with me as a young kid at the [Franklin Templeton Shootout] on the range and hit balls with me,” Scott continued.
“He was inquisitive about the clubs I was hitting and how I played – I wasn’t well known but he had time for everybody. He was the ultimate people person.
“To be able to share being a Masters champion with him, it’s a tremendous honor. I’m sure someone will kick things off with a few words and then hopefully the stories will start flowing which will be all in celebration and good spirits. He will be missed by everyone and I will certainly raise a glass in his honor.”
Two-time winner Bubba Watson openly admits he is constantly trying to better himself off the golf course – using Palmer’s example as his guide.
“I don’t even care about the golf,” he said of Palmer’s incredible records.
“He was always filled with joy. And filled others with joy. That’s his legacy.”
It is expected Nicklaus and Player, as they have done for many years, will have the group chuckling with plenty of Arnie stories. It is not uncommon for stories of Hogan and Snead to still get trotted out – it is in fact encouraged. Every champion has a responsibility to add to – and continue – the stories of the past.
Crenshaw gets a little emotional when he recalls the dinner a year ago. Palmer was struggling a little with his health but was the life of the party all the same.
Perhaps sensing his time as part of the group was getting closer to an end, Palmer spoke at length.
“It was so heartfelt,” Crenshaw said.
“He basically said what this place meant to him. And he was so sincere and thankful. He wanted to thank each and every champion.
“It’s hard to believe he’s not here, having meant so much to this place. He touched us all.”
While the legend may no longer be with us, his legendary stories will long be told.
The legacy of Arnold Palmer