The singular Supermex, six-time major champion Lee Trevino sat down with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus ahead of the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge. Naturally, the conversation turned to dearly departed Arnold Palmer.
Trevino, who played with Palmer during the King’s final competitive round told the story of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Playing together at the Administaff Small Business Classic at Augusta Pines Golf Club in 2006, Trevino watched Palmer hit the shot that inspired him to give up the game for good.
“We went to the fourth hole, a par-three. Arnie hits one and he looks back at me and he says ‘How close is that?”
I said, ‘How close is what?’ And he was playing in the tournament – this is a senior tournament. I said, ‘What are you talking about ‘how close is it?’ The ball hit up on the bank and it rolled back in the water.’
He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘It rolled back in the water.’ I said, ‘Arnie, the pin is on the right side. That’s a tree you were shooting at over there.’
Incredible. Guess the rule of thumb for when to hang it up, per Arnold Palmer, is “When you mistake a tree for the flagstick.”
“That’s it. That’s the last competitive shot I’ll ever hit,” Palmer reportedly said after Trevino’s revelation.
Trevino then offered to get the King a cart so he could leave the course, and Palmer responded with his customary class. ‘No. I’m going to finish the round. I’ve never walked off a golf course and I’m not about to start today.’
Famous pics of Arnold Palmer looking like a badass:
Palmer quit keeping score after that shot, but he finished the tournament. Mark Kreidler wrote brilliantly about the moment for ESPN in 2006.
“His body was rebelling on him in about a thousand ways, large and small. The game had gotten hard. His gallery, Arnie’s Army as it has been known for half a century, trailed around after him like a collective puppy, waiting for a pat on the head — a rousing moment, a long putt, anything — that Palmer couldn’t deliver.
“And Palmer knew he couldn’t deliver. He knew it. So he did the only thing available to him: This legend, with a legacy of glittering championships and golden rounds and a sort of original rock star’s existence in the sport, quit on the spot — without ever letting on. He played the rest of his day as an exhibition, having withdrawn from the tournament mid-round. He no longer kept score, which for a competitive golfer is the emotional equivalent of driving the drink cart.”
See, professional golf is unique in that golfers can play competitively well into their golden years, thanks to the Champions Tour. Unlike, say, the NBA, where a 37-year-old Michael Jordan was reminded he couldn’t compete professionally every time he laced up his trademark shoes, golf is different. And for the legends of the game, fans want to see these folks competing for as long as they possibly can, and they oblige.
But even when, say, Ben Crenshaw knows he can’t contend at the 2016 Masters, he still feels he can play at a professional level, but that he won’t be able to much longer. Hence, ‘16, was Gentle Ben’s final trip to Augusta National. It’s a different calculus for every player, and a tougher decision for the game’s most distinguished. Great story from Trevino and the millionth confirmation of Arnold Palmer’s class.