Palmer, The Competitor, Says Goodbye
April 10, 2004
By Alex Miceli
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The second round of most
competitive golf tournaments usually signals the end for
virtually half the field. On April 9 at Augusta National Golf
Club, however, it signaled the end of a Masters era for one
Arnold Palmer leaves the Masters with
four green jackets to his credit. (USGA Photo Archives)
Arnold Palmer decided that his 50th Masters
would be his final one as a competitor. Sure he might return to
compete in the Par-3 Contest or as a ceremonial starter, much the
same way former champions Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen and Byron
Nelson did for many years, but there will be no more strolls up
18 or trips through Amen Corner.
On April 9, Palmer, 73, fought back tears and
sadness as he holed out at the 18th hole to complete that last
competitive round. His score didn't matter, neither did the fact
that he missed a short putt for par. The gallery cheered his
"It's done," Palmer said of his 50-year
run. "I won't say I'm happy it's done. It's time for
it to be done for me. I look forward to watching the Masters and
seeing the winners come around as they do each year and see the
struggles that they have and the controversy that you will create
from time to time, only to keep it interesting."
Palmer's final journey started at 12:46 in the
afternoon and took more than five hours to complete.
Dressed in what has been called a "Tiger Red"
shirt, Palmer, the 1960 U.S. Open champion and 1954 U.S. Amateur
winner, waved to the crowd, shook the hands of the 92-year-old
Nelson and current Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson and
then teed it up, hitting his drive down the first fairway with a
unique swing that has never been copied.
The Masters and Augusta National, after all,
was the birthplace of Arnie's Army. That term was born here in
1958, the year Palmer won the first of four Green Jackets. But
Arnie's Army grew and followed him at every tour spot, through 62
victories and seven professional major titles.
"I've thought about how many times I've walked
up that 18th fairway," said Palmer. "I can think of the
four times that I won the Masters. I can think of a couple
of times that I didn't win and felt like I should have
won. I can think of the fans that have supported me and
listened to them, and of course they all have something to say or
most of them have something to say about what I'm doing when I'm
walking up the fairway."
Now Palmer, who has long been the spokesperson
for the USGA Members Program, has called it a career, even though
he hasn't been truly competitive for more than a decade. His last
made cut came in 1993 and his last victory was 21 years ago at
the Bob Hope Desert Classic. Since those last wins, Palmer became
a father and later a grandfather. In fact, his grandson, Sam
Saunders, caddied for him at this year's Masters.
Palmer is responsible for putting golf on the
map during a time that only the country club set played the game,
and then shepherded its development and success to the sport it
is today."Augusta and this golf tournament has been
about a part of my life as anything other than my family, and
most of you know that," said Palmer. "I don't think that I could
ever separate myself from this club and this golf
tournament. I may not be present, I may not be here, but
I'll still be part of what happens here, only because I want to
be. I've had such a great life and enjoyed it so
Alex Miceli is a free-lance writer from the Golf Press