It was sad to not be in the field at Bay Hill last week but seeing Arnold Palmer generated some lasting memories of the King, and there’s one I’d like to share today.
In 1991, I qualified for my first USGA event, the United States Junior Championship, at Arnold Palmer’s own Bay Hill Club. The eventual champion was Tiger Woods but the lasting impression of the week came from a full field dinner on the eve of the first round. All of the young qualifiers (age 14 to 17) gathered in the Bay Hill clubhouse and Arnold Palmer spoke to us. The message I recall was confusing at the time but makes more sense every day I play this game. He put it on our conscience that we must give back to the game of golf. At the time, I was thinking, “The game hasn’t given me much yet, certainly not as much as you Mr. Palmer.” How short sighted, but in my defense, I was 16 and only thinking about the tangibles like a USGA trophy in my living room or money to live on from playing the PGA TOUR. My perspective evolved over time, making me realize that even before I was a teenager, the game had given me so much, including a unique bond with my Dad, a desire to follow the rules when no one was watching, friendships, a desire to work at something to get better, the feeling of winning and losing and how to deal with both, and even the tangibles like a few junior golf trophies. The game continued to provide more to me as I received a college scholarship and was able to compete against the best college golfers in the country for four years in preparation for turning professional. Then golf didn’t quit and has given me a long career in professional golf. It continues to deepen old friendships, develop new ones and give me a unique bond with my three sons. I try to remind myself every day that millions of people love this game so much and that is precisely why I am so lucky enough to play a sport for a living. So I vow to do my best to honor this game and share it with others through helping junior golf, being a fun pro-am partner and using golf to help those in need. I thank Mr. Palmer for giving all of us participants at the 1991 U.S. Junior that perspective at an early time in our lives. I wish Mr. Palmer well and congratulate him on an exciting tournament last week.
I am off from competition for the next few weeks, returning at Hilton Head in mid-April. My family and I can enjoy the Easter celebration this weekend, followed by my children’s Spring Break. In the meantime, I’ll be following the TarHeel basketball team’s run in March Madness. We will have a house divided on Friday as my wife’s Hoosiers square off with the TarHeels in the Sweet Sixteen. This will probably be more intense than a Packers-Bears game.
Thank you for your continued cheers. I feel so utterly close to contending again and hope to give you all something to cheer about when I return to the PGA TOUR.