Monday, September 26, 2016

The Time Arnold Palmer Bought Me a Pint of Bass Ale

I have told this Arnold Palmer story before but after I found out about his death, I thought I should probably write it down, or it will be forgotten.  My family does not have much of an oral tradition.

I was at the 1982 British Open at Royal Troon.  It is the one that Tom Watson won from the parking lot as Nick Price carved up the last few holes.  I think he was three over for final four holes.  Tom's acceptance speech was almost an apology.  Anyway, my British friend, Jeff Nash, was a member of the Royal and Ancient and he got me an "All Access Badge." And I do mean all access. 

So I am sitting at the bar in the player's lounge and in walks Jack Nicholas and Arnold Palmer.  Arnie sits down on the stool immediately to my right with Jack on his right.  Arnie spoke first, "how ya doing?"  I tried to simultaneously form an answer and avoid shitting my pants.  I must have replied because he said, "oh, you're an American."   Then a conversation started that was all about me.  I am sitting with one of my all-time idols and he is asking about me.  Where I come from?  What I am doing in Scotland? My family?  Do I play golf?  The smart answer to that question when speaking to one of the greatest players in history is no.  But you can't lie to Arnie.  I couldn't even lie about my pathetic 15 handicap. 

I told him that we share a birthday (which is a fact that I knew but he seemed surprised by).  He even told Jack, who looked up from a paper he was reading and smiled in our general direction.  When Arnie found out I was in the military, he leaned over to Jack again (who he had pretty much ignored to talk to me) and said, "Rick is an American soldier stationed over here (close enough)."  Jack leaned across Arnie to shake my hand. He smiled and was cordial, but it was Arnie who took the time to honestly take an interest.  Maybe Jack would have if the seating had been reversed, but I somehow doubt it.  He asked me what I was drinking, motioning to the person behind the bar.  If it had been now, I would have said  an "Arnold Palmer," but they didn't exist yet.  "Bass, " I said, holding up my pint glass, "thanks Mr. Palmer."  I saw that calling him Mr. Palmer made him uncomfortable, so when the serving wench brought my fresh pint, I said, "Cheers Arnie."  I don't even remember what he was drinking but we clicked glasses.   We probably talked for 20 minutes before he was bothered by some official looking people in suits (suits at the freaking Open?) .   I had not realized that Jack had already left.   I like Jack, but this was Arnold Palmer.  The King.   He shook my hand as he left and told me to enjoy my week.  The rest of it was anticlimactic, I had sat at a bar with Arnold Palmer and he bought me a beer.   I managed to not shit my pants, but I think I may have peed a little.

Here is the best part.  On the weekend I saw him again by the driving range and I had a program that I had been getting autographed.  I walked up and said, "could I get your Autograph Arnie?"  He replied, "sure Rick, have you been enjoying yourself?  When do you have to be back to Bentwaters? "  Are you freaking kidding me?  That is probably why he is one of the most beloved sports figures on the planet. RIP