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April 3, 2007
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm delighted to be back with you. For the first time this week, I think most of you know that I was prepared to make my first official visit during tomorrow's Masters Major Achievement Award, but I have a very good reason for being here a day early. I have the distinct pleasure and personal honor to announce today that Arnold Palmer has accepted our invitation to become our Honorary Starter and will begin the 2007 Masters on Thursday by hitting the first tee shot. We are absolutely delighted that Arnold Palmer will once again be on the first tee at Augusta, a place where he belongs, and among thousands that traced their love of the game to his inspiration.
Arnold, on behalf of all of your fans, I thank you for once again putting them first. Arnold Palmer. (Applause).
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I'm happy to be here. I think all of you know that. I just wish it were in a different role. Not that I mind what I'm doing, because I wouldn't do it if I didn't like thoughts of it.
But I'd much rather be playing and doing that; I think all of you know that.
It's a pleasure for me to be here. I'm flattered that the Masters, Augusta, Billy, the entire Membership want me to do that and I look forward to doing it tomorrow morning -- Thursday morning, beg your pardon. Can't stand those mistakes I make all the time.
But it's something that, well, I think all of you know what Augusta means to me.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Questions, please.
Q. You talked about wanting it to be the right time. What were you waiting for for it to be the right time?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think the time has come. My competitive golf is done. I have no intentions of playing competitively, let's say, on the Tour. Maybe I might play some friendly competitions, but as far as competition like the Masters or playing the Tour in any way, shape or form, is not a reality anymore. I will appear from time to time in events that are unrelated to the championship form that I once played.
Q. Will this be a recurring role for you, or do you see this as maybe a one-time trial?
ARNOLD PALMER: I'm sorry. Say that again.
Q. Would you just do this more than once?
ARNOLD PALMER: I don't know. I'll refer that to the Chairman. (Laughter).
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Thank you. Yes. (Laughter).
Q. Mr. Palmer, any temptation if a drive goes right down the middle of the fairway to follow it down there and take another shot and keep playing up the first hole?
ARNOLD PALMER: (Grinning broadly). You know, I'm not too smart, but I'm not stupid. (Laughter). I think I'll just let it go wherever it goes.
Q. Phil Mickelson was in here earlier talking about new Callaway square-headed drivers which go 20 yards further. You're a Callaway man; have you got one of these?
ARNOLD PALMER: Do I have one? (Laughter). How long have you been coming to the Masters?
You are new, aren't you? I have a half a dozen.
No, I do have a number of square drivers that I have been fooling with, and I like them. But I'm not hitting it as far as I need to hit it to make any difference.
Does that answer your question?
Q. Will you be using a square-driver for the tee shot?
ARNOLD PALMER: Will I be using it? No. I just brought my clubs and it just didn't happen to be in the bag when I brought them.
Q. When was this decision made? Was this something recently, and was it a tough decision for you to make?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, it's been in my mind. I have talked to some of my friends, to Billy. I suppose to be perfectly honest with you, a couple of years ago I thought that I might do what I'm going to do this week. I just didn't want to rush it. I didn't want to get out ahead of myself.
I talked to Billy about it, and I felt like since I'm really not going to be playing and competing in golf tournaments all over the world anymore, this was a good time.
Q. Was it you finally approaching Billy and saying, "I'm ready," or did Billy come to you and say, "Are you ready?"
ARNOLD PALMER: We discussed it.
Q. Any thoughts about talking to Jack and eventually Gary maybe to join you in this pursuit?
ARNOLD PALMER: Again, I will refer that to the Chairman. (Laughter).
Q. If he does, would there be any arm-twisting on your part to get those guys to come join you?
ARNOLD PALMER: To let them join me or to tell them to stay the hell away? (Laughter).
Q. Either one.
ARNOLD PALMER: Hey, they don't call me when they want to do something. I'm not going to call them. They are my friends, and I'll leave it right there.
Q. I noticed just now on the way up to the podium you were looking at the two photos of you and Jack over there; do they bring up any memories of Augusta for you?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think this is Jack at age 55 or 60 when he won -- (laughter).
And I'm not sure about the one on the right. That may be, that could be as early as 58, and I can't be sure.
Q. Earlier Tiger and Phil talked about having to give the other the green jacket. What was it like to have to trade out the green jacket with Jack in the '60s there?
ARNOLD PALMER: As long as I was doing it, I loved it. Does that answer your question?
Q. You seem to have certain mixed emotions about taking on this role. Can you tell us why?
ARNOLD PALMER: Only because I didn't want to jump the gun and do it too early in my career. Things kind of wear away a little bit. The thoughts of playing and not playing in the Masters was very important to me, as all of you know in this room. It was something that, it was a hard one to stop playing, and I knew I should. I mean, it wasn't a question of continuing for any reason other than pride, I suppose.
When I quit, I just wanted to think about not playing in the Masters and get over that, and then I would be ready; and I'm ready.
Q. And has it been tough just not coming here and competing the last -- since you made that decision? Does it still get to your heart?
ARNOLD PALMER: Certainly it's tough. There's no question. I come here, and because I like it. And I play golf here and I enjoy that. But, you know, when you see all of these young guys out there, it's a hard bullet to swallow when you see the guys hitting the ball as far as they are and playing the kind of golf they are, and to know that you're not going to do that anymore, and I've known it for a number of years now.
As I say, it's a hard pill to swallow. All of a sudden, I'll sit at home and watch it on television from time to time and think, "You know, I could have done that better." This is realistic; this is not just a figment of my imagination. And that is hard, as I say, it's a hard pill to swallow. You've got to think about it. You realize it's over, and it's been my life for well over 50 years, as you know.
Q. When you came here, when you played all those years you would see Byron and Gene Sarazen and Jack Hutchinson, maybe some of the guys as the Honorary Starter; did you ever think how neat that was to see the old legends hit the ball when you were still playing?
ARNOLD PALMER: Yes, to all of your questions. And what it brought back to me was the fact that the first time I played in the Masters was 1955. There might be someone in this room who knows who I played with that first day that I ever played here, but I never forgot it.
And it was a day that I will always remember. I remembered, as soon as we talked about being Honorary Starter or playing in the Masters, that first day that I ever played here was something that came straight to my mind. I question anybody in this room to tell me who it was I played with.
Boy, you are young people, aren't you?
Q. Sorry, Mr. Palmer, I don't have the answer.
ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, I thought you had the answer.
ARNOLD PALMER: Would you like to know who?
Q. Yes. (In unison).
ARNOLD PALMER: Gene Sarazen.
Q. My question was: Coming back on the reflections that you're having, what is the most memorable moment that you can think of in your Masters span?
ARNOLD PALMER: What is the most memorable moment?
Q. What was or is, yes.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I just told you one of them and that was playing with Gene Sarazen. I was fresh out of the Amateur ranks. That was before the Masters revoked the Amateur status for the winning of the Amateur. If you win the Amateur now and turn pro, you lose your exemption to the Masters.
But in those days, that had not happened. So I turned pro and still got my invitation to the Masters. That was one of the great thrills of my life to play with Gene Sarazen the first day, and those of you that had never seen him play, he was a very quick player. Well, that just pleased the hell out of me. I like to go fast.
Gene, he was putting; when I would hit a putt, if it didn't go in the hole, he just waited until I got my ball out of the way so he could putt. And if mine went in, he was putting while mine was still in the hole.
And he was a gentleman to play with. I thought, "Boy, you know, if this is the way it is, it's great."
Q. You're so revered by the fans here, and I wonder if that played a part in wanting to take on this role, being in front of them again?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think, again, you all know what the fans here have meant to me. When every day I do interviews with you people and whatever it might be, but the question always is, where did this happen or where did that happen. And I could sit here and tell you from now until 7 or 8 o'clock tonight all of the things that happened here like when we first came here, there weren't ropes. The galleries were in the -- they were ropes, but the fairways were not roped. The galleries were in the fairway a lot of the time and they were in back of you.
Then there was things like the signs that they did; that's another part of the history of this golf tournament. When I first played here in the '50s, they were doing -- they started doing the scoreboards as you see them. The first people to do those scoreboards were soldiers, and those soldiers were from Fort Gordon right here in Augusta. They took their week off and volunteered to do the work here as volunteers. They were on the scoreboards.
And that's where the original Arnie's Army came from. They said, "We are soldiers in Arnie's Army." And those signs became almost obnoxious they were so heavy and there was so many of them; and it spread.
And then finally after spreading as much as it did throughout the game of golf and in tournaments that I was playing in, everybody was carrying signs. And the PGA TOUR, and Augusta, jointly, said, "Hey, no more signs," because it was getting obnoxious. There was so many signs and they were holding them up.
So that's when the signs started, and in only a couple of years, they stopped.
Q. Did you ever have occasion to see the Honorary Starters? Did you ever get to watch that?
ARNOLD PALMER: I came specifically to watch it a few times. I watched the first Honorary Starters. And then I watched a couple of times through the years, and I watched Byron Nelson, and I watched some others. I don't recall all of them, but I did watch them, yes.
Q. Will you stay on for the four days of the tournament?
ARNOLD PALMER: No, I will not. I will stay -- I'll probably leave here sometime Thursday and go wind up with a beer in front of the television. (Laughter).
Q. Tiger Woods talked earlier today about how he's going to be a father later this summer; how did that affect you and your focus on the game of golf?
ARNOLD PALMER: It certainly affected me. My children were very important to me and of course I could go into a whole long story about the things that happened to me because of my family. It all relates to the fact that I was scared to death to fly, and that's where it starts.
And I decided that if I was going to play the Tour -- this was 1955, that I was going to play the Tour, I was going to have to fly. And then I realized -- I started flying. I learned to fly. And some of the early things I did was that I had a family. And I realized then that I could fly from my home to golf tournaments or to exhibitions; I could go in the morning, do my job, and then I could be home to be with my family. And that just grew and grew, and of course a couple of things happened. One, I overcame the fear of flying because I was doing it by myself and I sure as hell didn't want to hurt myself. (Laughter).
And that all had to do with my family, my two girls, and of course I guess that's about it. On that note, the kids are -- they are about to be grandmothers now ... so, anyway.
Q. Gary Player is going to tie your record this week for most Masters played. He's talking about breaking it next year. What are your thoughts just about that?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, if he isn't embarrassed, I won't be embarrassed for him. (Laughter).
Q. Just your thoughts about the rivalry.
ARNOLD PALMER: No, we're good friends. He just wants to do one better, and that's fine. I'm for him. But he can't touch my record. He hasn't even come close to it. And you don't know why, though, do you? He missed a year. So that's the end of that. (Laughter).
Q. He's in pretty good shape.
ARNOLD PALMER: What does that mean? Are you saying I'm not in pretty good shape?
Q. Maybe he has like 30 more years left or so.
ARNOLD PALMER: Who gives a shit? (Laughter). If you can't win, it doesn't matter. That's s-h-i-t. (Laughter).
Hey, he's my friend and I love him. I can also have fun with him, too.
Q. Mr. Palmer, the course has changed quite a bit in the last ten years, and everyone is crediting it to Tiger, and the game has changed. Do you believe that one person could change the game so much?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I'm not sure that one person has changed the game. He's certainly the outstanding player in the world today. No one will ever doubt that, nor will I. But I don't think that one person changes the game. I think it's a combination of things.
And you referred to the golf course and how it's changed. The golf course here started changing first time I ever played it. 1955, the golf course was changed and renovated almost every year to some extent. One trap here or a mound here, and it never stopped. It was continuous.
When you start talking about the changes that are taking place today, yes, they are major changes because the golf course has gotten longer. But if you just go back and look at the statistics of golf and this golf course, which is the absolute perfect place to do it, you can think about the shots that I hit or the people before me, whether it was Horton Smith, Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, you name them. If you go through those years, the best hole in the world, to think about it, is 18. I used to hit a drive, and I'd hit a good drive at 18, and I would hit a 7; it would be a 6 if the winds were wrong, or an 8-iron to the green. What are they hitting today? 6-, 7-, 8-irons, same clubs.
So the changes are there, yes, and the yardages are bigger. In the early days there were no sand traps to the left on 18th fairway. And for awhile, the guys, if they didn't hit it pretty good, they couldn't even get to those sand traps. But as time crept on, they got to those sand traps. And then they moved the sand traps a little further so that they would still be; and that's been the history of Augusta from the day I got here.
I suppose the changes in the last couple of years, some of the changes have been more dramatic and I won't deny that. But they have been changing it for years. No. 8, there used to be big mounds to the left of the green. Well, one day, I holed it from the sand trap on the left where those mounds were for an eagle that helped me win the tournament. You know, it has been changing.
There had been suggestions -- I was with Cliff Roberts when we talked about changing the golf course and I went out with him, and Cliff was one of my good friends and one of the great people of Augusta and did just -- without him, it never would have happened the way it has. But we talked about changes, and some of them were made and some of them weren't made. But it just enhanced the tournament. It never took away from the tournament. It just kept adding to it.
Q. Did you ever feel like there was changes made because of your game?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I'd like to think so. But I won't say that.
Q. Given your history and all of the emotion you feel for Augusta, what do you anticipate going through your mind when you stand on the first tee Thursday morning? What's that going to be like do you think?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, you know, one of the things, and I mentioned it earlier, was the fact that the first time I teed off was with Gene Sarazen. I'll always remember that.
And of course as the years and talking about the changes and the things that happened, I remember where the first tee was in 1955 and then a few years later where it was and a few years later where it was; and now, here it is, you know where it is now. But the putting green used to be where the first tee is, and that kept moving back.
And those are things that just were natural changes, and certainly as I said, I think it enhanced the golf course and the tournament, and of course I've always had ideas of my own about it. But we won't get into that.
Q. When you played with Gene that day and you got to 15, did he show you where he hit the ball for the double-eagle?
ARNOLD PALMER: You know, that's funny, I asked him. The golf course had changed slightly even then. But he pointed out pretty much where it was. But you also have to remember that the tee, when he made the double-eagle, was to the left; it's no longer even in sight now, and it was over by the trees on the left side.
So you drove the ball up, and he was -- odd as it may seem, he was right where these guys are driving it today. There's no kidding about that; it's right there.
Q. Mr. Palmer, Byron Nelson said that he never stopped getting nervous about that one shot that he hit every year off that first tee. Would you expect a little bit of nerves or emotion or excitement when you get out there?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think if -- I probably wouldn't hit it if I didn't feel some emotion.
Q. (FURMAN BISHER) Arnold, which tee will you use, Members' --
ARNOLD PALMER: Nice to see you old people.
Q. (FURMAN BISHER) Trying to hide out back here.
ARNOLD PALMER: I couldn't see you. You kept your hat on.
Q. (FURMAN BISHER) What tee will you use, the Members' tee or the Tournament tee?
ARNOLD PALMER: Tournament tee. (Laughter).
Q. (FURMAN BISHER) For God's sake, you're a member. Hit it from the Member's tee.
ARNOLD PALMER: Billy won't let me. (Laughter).
Q. How much of a parallel, if any, at all, do you see between what you and Jack did in the '60s and what Tiger and Phil are doing now kind of going back and forth with the green jacket?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, there's certainly a parallel there. You can't deny that. It's not as long as Jack and I were, but it's certainly got a definite relation to what has happened. And of course, you could go back before Jack and myself, and you could look at Hogan and Nelson and Snead and Demaret and people like that, and they switched it back and forth.
I'd like to think that that's going to continue for many, many moon.
Q. Ten years ago, when Tiger won here, did you look at him and think that this kid was going to change the game?
ARNOLD PALMER: I played a practice round with him that year. Jack and I played with Tiger that year in a practice round, and we both marveled at the way he was playing and how good we thought he was. And, you know, let's just be up front about it. He hasn't disappointed us. (Laughter).
You know, you've got to think about it. When I came to Augusta the first time, I was 26 years old. Jack was like 21 or 22 when he first came. Tiger was, what, 20? How old was he when he won?
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: 21.
ARNOLD PALMER: That's all relative to the fact that I had Jack by 11 years and Tiger is that much younger now. So he's going to be playing here a lot longer than I was or Jack was.
That has something to do with what happens. He's won, what, four Masters at 31 years old, and he's just 31, isn't he?
Q. Yes. December.
ARNOLD PALMER: No telling. If he puts his whole life into the future of his game like he has to this point, there's no telling what he might do.
CHAIRMAN PAYNE: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. Arnold, thank you. We're looking forward to Thursday.
End of FastScripts