The absence of Arnold Palmer from the Masters par-three event on Wednesday will be seen by many as a sad note in history.
Palmer, who has been troubled by a shoulder injury which has prevented him from hitting a shot since December, will still tee off from Augusta National’s opening hole as part of ceremonial duties on Thursday but age is understandably taking a physical toll.
Speaking recently at Bay Hill, where he once again successfully hosted the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the seven-times major winner reflected not so much on his career in golf but the modern game. Palmer, for example, offered a firm response when asked where he would place a free wager on Tiger Woods reaching Jack Nicklaus’s record major haul of 18.
“If I were betting? I would bet that it is safe,” Palmer said. This is pertinent; Palmer, now 85, himself won his last major aged just 34. Woods has won 14 but has not triumphed in one of golf’s big four since he took the 2008 US Open aged 32.
Like so many in the game, Palmer is reluctant to delve too deeply into matters Woods and admits he does not know the 39-year-old’s “adult life well enough” to assess whether or not he will claim even one more major.
Still, he is aware of Woods’s struggles. Palmer was again forthcoming when pondering whether an hour in Woods’s company would fix his current ailments. “It would take more than an hour,” Palmer said. “I think it would take a lot more time to analyse and talk to Tiger to understand – in my mind – what is troubling him now.
“He certainly would enhance the game in the future if he continues to play the kind of golf that he did. Now, will he? That’s a good question. I don’t know and I’m not sure anybody, including Tiger, knows.”
Palmer hosted Rory McIlroy at dinner during his tournament, an occasion clearly relished by the world No1. In Palmer, he has a fan. “He looks more natural than anybody I have seen in the young group,” Palmer added. “He has a good swing and looks comfortable playing golf. He is a wonderful young man.”
But what of the sport itself? Palmer finds record comparisons troublesome. After all, he did not play in the US PGA Championship until the age of 25 because of restrictions relating to young professionals. “I always thought I would win more majors,” he said. “The biggest frustration is not winning the PGA. In my own thinking, circumstances prevented that because of the rules and regulations they had in effect for playing in the PGA. I couldn’t start when I was able to play, it took me five years.”
His current fears relate to the distance balls can be hit, over-teaching and physicality becoming too important a part of any top golfer’s mindset in his view. “They are going to run out of land eventually by building the courses longer and longer and having all this equipment that lets the golf ball go further. The space and time for playing golf has changed; even though it should be faster, it is slower.”
Palmer added: “My father was a tough guy. He learned the game through basic fundamentals and he taught basic fundamentals. He believed in playing the game with those and did.
“The grip, the stance, the position of the body; various things would be dictated by the physical features you applied to the golf swing. That’s the way I played golf all my life. Now there are computers, teachers who try to analyse everything about the golf game and it isn’t that kind of game.
“We all tried to be fit but now that has become a business, big business of teaching people to be physically fit so they can play better golf. They are driving it hard. Do I like it? I think there is some merit to it but I think it is overdone.”
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