I cannot remember the exact year, but I can remember the setting and the memory like it was yesterday. Each fall, there is a tournament for charity held at Latrobe CC and it draws many people from all over. Largely in part because of the location and who lives nearby. My father from Ambridge, PA grew up idolizing Mr. Palmer. He tells me the story of how he and his father, went to the US Open on the final day when Palmer and Miller were battling it out. They never saw Miller, the eventual winner hit a single shot, but followed Arnie all day.
In 2005, my grandmother moved to Latrobe near the airport and we would go see her for visits and take drives around Latrobe to see all the history, scenery, and landmarks. St. Vincents College, Old Route 30, Idlewild, Ligonier, to name a few. Eventually my father met a guy while playing one day at another course and he was invited to play in this tournament he ran at Arnie's course. My dad jumped at the chance and I was invited too. What a thrill, to play a round of golf on the same grass that Arnie played daily.
We arrived early in the morning and checked in. We went to our carts and headed out for a shotgun start. I can't remember which hole we we started on, but the fact I was there at Latrobe CC playing golf with my dad on Arnies course was just incredible. We had a sun filled fall afternoon in Western PA. I can't remember how I was playing or how our group did, but it was special.
Eventually our group fell behind, and we noticed that several holes behind us, was another group and they were playing faster than we were. We took notice and tried to stay ahead. We couldn't and were going to have to let them play through. Finally on the 12th tee, we had to let them play through and we were willing albeit a bit embarrassing. As we readied to hit, we noticed who it was who was playing behind us.
It was Arnold Palmer and some associates.
As his caddy drove around to the 12th tee box, he got out and greeted us kindly. We were star struck. We just watched as he shook all of our hands and greeted us. Shaking the hand of a sports icon was something I had never had the opportunity to do in my young age until that day. It was a memory I have never forgotten. His firm aged handshake which had shaken hands of countless other legends was just special. We were too star struck to take a photo, or even get an autograph. We just watched the King hit his tee shot and continue on his way on his course, and in his time.
That was the last time I ever saw Arnold Palmer. He resembles my grandfather a bit in the face and when I see a photo of Arnold, I see my Papa. His warm smile that day was so big and friendly. That same smile we always saw on TV, we saw it with our own eyes.
The night that Arnie passed away, I was with my dad at home watching TV when the phone rang and my aunt who lives in Greensburg called to say he had passed. The conversation was 15 seconds, and my dad was so moved to emotion we just fell silent. The King had passed away, and my dads idol would no longer play golf at Latrobe CC. My father had been at Latrobe CC just days before playing again in that tournament for charity. Some had said that Arnie was not doing well but had been there days before eating dinner.
My father was able to make it to St. Vincent's Basilica for the Memorial Service and was quite moved with emotion as so many shared stories and words honoring the King.
Arnie will be remembered by many who saw him on TV, but I will always remember him as the King who Played Through.