The passing of Mr. Palmer is a sad time for all who knew him personally, and also for the millions of people worldwide who knew of him or followed his career. His achievements…PGA Tour wins, Majors, IMG, Golf Channel...they are now all well documented across the internet, especially this week.
Like some of the other SDSI members, I too had many chances to be around Mr. Palmer as he was well known. I cannot say that I ever felt comfortable enough to call him “Arnie,” not because he was unapproachable or formal, in fact he was the opposite. No, the more you knew him the more likely you were to call him Mr. Palmer, all based on respect for this enormously successful man.
My most memorable interface was at the 1998 Masters. It was the first Masters that Mr. Palmer missed the cut. That Thursday evening, Joe Moses, our Nike Golf Sports Marketing Specialist, had a random encounter with “Arnie” inside the Club House Members’ Pavilion. After some small talk, Joe told Mr. Palmer that he was here with our Golf execs and Phil Knight. Phil had not met “Arnie” and vice versa. “Arnie” suggested that we drop by his house in Augusta that Friday morning for breakfast, early in fact, so that he could get his jet airborne for the trip back home.
To be honest, we had a pretty amazing evening the night before our breakfast appointment. Phil had invited some notable guests over to our rented house for a lively dinner. Dawn Friday morning came early, really early. The Nike team, Phil included, rallied as best we could, and set off for the Palmer House. Looking a bit disheveled and embarrassed we knocked on the door. Winnie Palmer, perfectly dressed as always, answered the door and greeted us with those wonderful Southern manners. “Oh you must be the Nike guys, come on in. I am going to make you a wonderful breakfast... Arnie will be out in a minute.” I often wondered what she thought at the sight of us…
Well, the conversation was private and I don’t want to share it, but let me say that Joe, Rod and I saw two giants, two sport legends find common ground and share the immense dose of humanity and charisma they both had. Its no wonder Mr. Palmer was so loved; he was 100% real and interested in people. His concern and attention was evident in his handshake, his memory for names and faces, and the twinkle in his eye he shared with everyone.
Phil, as always, was prepared to meet Arnie. His homework was done. They had a memorable and personal conversation; the rest of us stood on the sidelines, stunned by greatness.
Thanks Mr. Palmer, you are the MAN!
Bob Rief, SDSI Executive Chairman