Kristina Rutherford chats with golf legend Arnold Palmer.
Let’s say you, Jack and Gary were to tee it up today and play 18. Who would win?
I don’t know. After all, I’m 84 years old (now 85). They’re both young kids!
Are there nerves when you play the ceremonial shot to kick off the Masters?
There are always nerves. We hit a few balls and get ready to go.
Can you walk us through your fourth Masters win in 1964, and that last hole?
I was on top of my game that year at Augusta. They had one of the best fields ever in that Masters and after 54 holes I led them all by five shots. I went out Sunday determined to be walking up the 18th fairway knowing there was no way I could lose the tournament. And I didn’t. I won by six strokes in what turned out to be my seventh and last major championship. Which reminds me of what Dave Marr, my playing partner that day, said as we left the 18th tee. Half-kidding, I asked him if I could help him. He needed to make birdie to tie Jack Nicklaus for second place. A funny man with a quick wit, Dave replied: “Yeah, make a 12.” [Marr did make that birdie.]
What sort of evidence do you see of Arnie’s Army these days?
I see a lot of the people and I hear from thousands of them. Lots of letters. It does keep me busy.
Do you enjoy the recognition you get every time you’re in public, or does it get old?
I suppose to some degree I’m amazed that it’s still happening, but it’s a very pleasant surprise.
What are some of the wildest things you’ve ever autographed?
Well, how about the hood of a tractor that looked just like the one from my Latrobe Country Club that we used in a lot of [Pennzoil] commercials? Or the dashboard of a new Cadillac a friend of mine had just purchased? When I think about it, I guess I’ve signed just about every part of the human body that decency permitted.
What’s the greatest advice you ever received as a player?
I received many years of good advice from my father—how to live, how to play, how to be a gentleman.
Walk us through your favourite moment on the golf course, ever. It must be hard to pin down one, but if you absolutely had to…
Well, how about winning the Canadian Open in 1955? My very first win as a pro. That really got me going in my career.
What’s the most impressive golf performance you’ve witnessed and not competed in yourself?
I’ve seen some great ones, but one that really impressed me was the Masters that Jack [Nicklaus] won in 1986. He was 46 years old at the time and finished eagle, birdie, birdie, par—30 on the back nine—and came from five back to win by a shot. That was his 18th and last major championship. He showed that day what a great player he was.
Was your on-course personality a natural part of your game or a conscious decision to drive more eyes to golf?
I wouldn’t say it was a deliberate attempt to attract more people to the game. It was a natural thing for me.
Which particular pro do you like watching these days and why? You can’t say your grandson—that’s my next question.
Phil Mickelson is an exciting player to watch.
What’s the best part of watching your grandson Sam Saunders, and does it make you miss the Tour?
My grandson is hitting the ball so well that it’s exciting for me to just watch him play. In a way, I suppose it makes me miss the Tour. I still enjoy the game, and watching Sam is very important.
How much golf are you playing these days? Is that competitive fire still burning?
I’m playing very little golf these days.
What nickname do you prefer: The King, Arnie or Dumpy?
I’d say Dumpy.
How did you earn that nickname?
My oldest grandchild couldn’t say Arnie and it came out Dumpy. Nothing disrespectful!
What’s the perfect mixture of iced tea and lemonade?
That’s a secret.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.