Arnold Palmer, patron saint of the modern era televised professional golf and the first massively marketable corporate athlete, died September 25. Predictably, the salty teared tributes flowed from all corners—and rightfully so.
However, one variety of testimonial and remembrance was particularly irksome in light of the collective understanding in the small world of touring professional golfers that, as of late in 2015, Mr. Palmer’s days were extremely numbered.
Gary Van Sickle of Golf.com:
“A tour player who teed it up at Bay Hill in January called me at the time to tell me how worried he was about Arnie because The King, as he is affectionately known, did not look well at the time. He looked really, really unwell, the tour player said, and some Bay Hill folks told him Arnie’s status was day-to-day. As in some days were better—or a lot worse—than others.”
And indeed, we saw it at Bay Hill: A frail, withered, Arnold Palmer—looking more like grandpa-in-the-casket than grandpa, whose lap you sat on—inching around the property in a golf cart, unable to stand.
If you didn’t know going in the weeks leading up to the tournament that this was likely to be Palmer’s final Arnold Palmer Invitational, you were either blindly optimistic or just plain blind.
So it is that the tweets, the interviews, the syrupy reflections, and even the posed photos at Palmer’s memorial, are extremely maddening coming from the high-level professional golfers who couldn’t be bothered with the basic show of respect of teeing it up at the golf tournament that bears Palmer’s name.
Who are these discourteous dissemblers? These take-the-money-and-run without-a-thank-you princes of this leisure-time activity?
Well, here are the top 20 golfers in the Official World Golf Ranking at the moment, the biggest names in this gentleman’s game of ours, and whether they were inside the ropes at Bay Hill this year. If they weren’t (which most of them weren’t) we’ll slip on our deerstalkers and try to figure out what they were doing instead of honoring the man who blew the ceiling off professional golfers’ earning potentials.
What the PGA Tour schedule looked like during the weeks surrounding the Arnold Palmer.
- World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship: February 29-March 06
- Valspar Championship: March 07-13
- Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard: March 14-20
- World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play: March 21-27
- Shell Houston Open: March 28-April 03
- Masters Tournament: April 04-10
- Jason Day: Yes!
2. Dustin Johnson: No.
3. Rory McIlroy: Yes!
4. Jordan Spieth: No. Took the week off between the Valspar Championship and the WGC-Dell.
5. Henrik Stenson: Yes!
6. Adam Scott: Yes!
7. Patrick Reed: No. Same as Spieth.
8. Bubba Watson: No. Took two weeks off between the WGC-Cadillac and WGC-Dell.
9. Danny Willett: No. Same as Spieth, Reed.
10. Rickie Fowler: No. Same as Bubba.
11. Justin Rose: Yes!
12. Paul Casey: Yes!
13. Sergio Garcia: No. Didn’t play between the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Shell Houston Open.
14. Branden Grace: No. Same as Spieth, Reed, Willett.
15. Phil Mickelson: No. Same as Watson, Fowler.
16. Jimmy Walker: No. Same as Watson, Fowler, Mickelson.
17. Matt Kuchar: Yes!
18. Hideki Matsuyama: Yes!
19. Russell Knox: No. Week off between the Valspar Championship and WGC-Dell Match Play.
20. Louis Oosthuizen: No. Week off between Valspar Championship and WGC-Dell Match Play.
As you can see above, a special wag of the finger is in order for top American golfer. Beyond Tiger Woods (who always plays Bay Hill and gets a pass as he was on his couch), the most marketable American golfers, according to Sports Business Daily, are Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson.
And If you’re scoring at home, none of those three teed it up at Bay Hill. Ditto Dustin Johnson.
Of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, who dramatically made the pilgrimage to Latrobe for Palmer’s public memorial service Tuesday amid much commendation, only Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, Brandt Snedeker had the decency to show up at Bay Hill this year.
But wait! Golfers aren’t greedy, self-interested athletes (like they are in other sports). These are distinguished individuals…with charitable foundations! They have weekly Bible study!
Part of the blame has to lie with the PGA Tour for its overcrowded calendar. But really, the AP Invitational was in a good spot: Two weeks after the WGC-Cadillac Championship (which most top golfers play), a week after the Valspar Championship (which most historically don’t), and a week before the bullshit cashgrab that is the WGC-Dell Match Play.
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson and a Web.com Tour player, said at the time he was disappointed by the big names who were absent.
“You have all these World Golf Championships and the majors, and I know the money and points are big in those. But it’s bigger than money and points. It’s about paying respect to the history of the game. The truth, this week is not about any one of those guys. It’s about Arnold Palmer and what he’s done for this game.”
Much like he was at Palmer’s memorial service, Saunders was right on the money with those remarks.
We’ll close with a lesson from Arnold Palmer for those golfers who sat it out at Bay Hill this year, particularly the Americans.
From Ian O’Connor’s awesome ESPN.com piece, “The Force that Drove Arnold Palmer.”
“Two longtime friends, Bob Florio and Howdy Giles, were crying on the phone Sunday night as they remembered the King of all golf kings….Florio had seen Palmer last week for a fundraiser outing. He rode in a cart with Palmer for two and a half hours, visiting this foursome and that foursome, before they retreated to the King’s office.
“Before Arnold fell asleep,” Florio recalled, “and this is a perfect Palmer line, he asked me what time he needed to be at our reception. I told him he didn’t need to go and he said, ‘Goddamnit, I didn’t ask you if I needed to go or not. I asked you when I needed to be there.’ So I told him 5:45 p.m. And you know what, at 5:45 that freakin’ door opened and there was Arnold Palmer. It didn’t matter that one of his guys had to practically carry him up the stairs. If Arnold Palmer said he was going to be there, he was there.”’
Professional golfers build their schedules around the tournaments that are important to them. Doing anything other than making a commitment to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year, and then showing up to do so, was totally unacceptable. Hopefully, these golfers learn a lesson and make it a damn priority to honor the King’s memory at Bay Hill next year.
Featured image via PGA of America’s Twitter