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March 25, 2009

Arnold Palmer


MARK STEVENS: I'd like to welcome Arnold Palmer to the interview room. Mr. Palmer has actually played in this event 38 times throughout his career at Bay Hill, won in 1971, and he last played here in 2004 before adding his name to the tournament in 2007. We're going to start off and have Mr. Palmer give some general statements and then we'll take some questions.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, general comments, I'm very pleased with what is happening, what has happened in the last few months. The golf course is probably as good as I have ever seen it in my 40-odd years here at the Bay Hill Club, and my crew have just done an outstanding job getting the golf course in the condition it's in, everything from the greens to the rough to the fairways. We are extremely happy. And we hope that the players are happy with that.
And on the players, we're very happy to have the field we have, and I appreciate the guys coming and showing up to make this another great year for the Classic or the Invitational if you wish, and all the things that have happened around here, and of course to have our young friend from Japan here to play is great. I hope he has a good week and enjoys the game.
As I say, we have a good field, and I'm happy that Tiger is back, needless to say. I think that's sort of standard in this day and age; if he shows up, it sort of tells you something about your tournament and what might happen. So we're looking for a lot of excitement this week, and of course I think there's some other young players that are in this field that we haven't heard as much about as we would like to hear, and I think that might happen this week, also.
So generally in what we are calling some down economic times, we feel like we're very prosperous here and very happy to have all the things happening that we have happening. Okay?

Q. You mentioned the tough economic times. You were a big part of associating and interacting with fans. Finchem has asked the players to do a better job of that this year. What would be your advice to players today? And Rocco also said you'd probably be nauseated about the fact that people have to be asked to do this kind of thing. Just talk a little bit about what the players need to do in your mind.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course the prosperousness of the TOUR and the general health of the TOUR over the past 40, 50 years has maybe led us down a primrose path a little bit, and we kind of take for granted a lot of the things that have happened, whether it be the purses, the conditions of the golf course.
I can think about the years that I played the TOUR from 1955 to present day, and I can tell you that things have changed. I can remember playing from Los Angeles on the Winter Tour all the way around the southwestern, eastern, midwestern coast and back up to Augusta, and one of the things that always got my attention was the fact that when we played the Winter Tour we always looked forward to getting to Augusta because of the condition and the things that were at Augusta that we didn't have generally.
That doesn't mean that I'm being critical; I'm only pointing out that the conditions of the golf courses and the purses that we played for have all changed, and of course, I think more than ever we kind of took all that for granted. And maybe now we're going to have to take a look at that and maybe do a little more to enhance it.

Q. What kind of advice would you give players, what type of things to do?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that's not my position to do. Advice, I would say that they need to understand more about what the TOUR is all about, how it got to be where it is, and my advice would be to take a good long look and then maybe realize that it didn't just happen; it's taken a lot of years for it to happen. And we're all in a very good economic situation, even with the economic downturn that we're looking at. We'd like to see it stabilize and then continue to grow as it has through the years, and I think that it would pay the young people to take a look at that and maybe realize a little more about how valuable what they have is.

Q. I'm going to throw a couple at you if I could, one about your tournament and one about Augusta. You've been lobbying for the fourth spot on the Florida Swing. You got it this week. Are you satisfied, did you get the Europeans that you assumed that you would get, or are you happy with the contingent and the turnout on that front? The second question about Augusta would be there's been 12 months of discussion about whether some of the electricity and buzz has been lost there because of the last two final rounds and the high scores and whether you think they might have gone a little too far with the design and maybe should back that down some.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, the first question, my position or the tournament's position here is, I think, very good. I'm very positive about it. I suppose we'll see how that works out. We have a good field. It's two weeks before the Masters, and in my thinking that's a pretty good position to be in. Again, we'll have to wait and see how that all works out, but I'm happy with it.
The second question, Augusta, have they gone too far? Have they made it too difficult? Well, that's a point of discussion with anyone. We could talk about Bay Hill and whether we're making it too tough with the rough and the par-70. I'm coming, on May 15th we're going to start redoing Bay Hill. We are not going to try to make it any more difficult than it is. We'll probably go back to par-72; I don't know. That's something that we can think about, talk about and look at.
I certainly look at it from both sides. I think that the challenge that you provide for the players is good. On the other hand, I think the fans like to see scores. I think they like to see birdies and eagles and the things that these guys can do out there to make it interesting.
It's a mixed bag, and you can argue either way. In this case what we do to Bay Hill for next year will be something that we hope will make it more exciting and bring the golf course back to where we'd like to have it. And certainly this year the work that has been done has pleased me, and this tournament as it is now will please me. But again, you could say we're going to do a little modernization of the golf course.

Q. Speaking of our young friend from Japan, how did you come to find him, and do you know anything about him, and did you talk about Augusta while you were in the meeting this morning, any advice to him?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, I do a lot of business in Japan currently and have for many, many years, going back to about 1960-'61 when I started going there, and as you may or may not know, I've built 18 golf courses in Japan. So I have a relationship in Japan that has gone on for many, many years, and when something happens like this young man, who is a real hero, it is obvious that we're going to hear about it and hear how good he is.
We're certainly pleased. I've heard everything from a young Tiger Woods to just a real great young man, and having met him and talked to him, he has a great personality. I see from what he's done playing golf that his future is very bright, and not just in Japan but around the world.

Q. Padraig Harrington is playing in this event for the first time in nine years. Could you talk about what he brings to the event and whether you had any personal involvement in his decision to play?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think his record speaks for itself. He has played wonderfully well. He's won the last two majors. It's great to have him here. I've had the privilege and pleasure of talking to him and discussing his game and his coming to Bay Hill, and we are very, very pleased to have him here.
And since I'm married to an Irish lady, I can tell you that that's very important to me, and of course to have the British and U.S. champion here is -- I'm sorry, I didn't say that right, but have him here is very, very important.

Q. I just want to ask you a little bit more about Tiger. What were your own personal feelings on how he was going to perform after the long layoff? Did you think it was going to take him a little bit of time, or do you expect greatness right away?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, knowing Tiger as I do, that's a good question. He has been off a long time, and I think there is the possibility that it might take him a couple tournaments to get back up to speed, although it looks to me like he's hitting the ball very well, and I'm sure that he's going to do everything he possibly can to win as quickly as he can. Am I putting that out of reach? No, not in any way, shape or form. I think he could win any tournament he wants to at this point in time.
As I say, knowing him as I do, he will make every effort. I've watched him work, I've watched him practice, and I've watched him play in a couple events that he's played this year, and I think he's full strength.
I suppose the fine points of the game are where he may be a little rusty, with his putting. Some of his game that is in the scoring zone may take him a little bit to get back onto. But I feel like he's pretty ready right now.

Q. I was just curious, after Tiger won last year, you embraced and it almost seemed like a father-son type of moment. Can you reflect on that a little bit? And also, there's another memory that comes to mind, I'm waxing nostalgic but I don't feel like waxing my car, so it was concerning the Century Award when Jack Nicklaus received that award and said to you, "I love you, Arn." He think he was up there on stage and you were with your wife at that time and it was a very memorable moment for myself and I'm sure a lot of others.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think Tiger's performance here last year was very good, and Tiger and his father had a great relationship, as I did with my father, and I think Tiger is very aware of that. And I'm sure that as I did and as he will for a number of years miss his dad and the things that he used to talk to him about, as I did with my father.
I think the relationship is something that is very regarded and very high on the agenda. I think that he will remember that, and when he has a situation like he did here last year, that will come very fresh in his mind.
I'm not sure where we go from there, except to say that it's a good one, and if I can -- I suppose if I could send a message to every kid in this world, they would have that relationship with their father as Tiger has and that I had, and I think that's something that is extremely valuable and leads to whatever success any of us have had.

Q. Charity is such an important part of what this tournament is about. The economy, how has that affected corporate sponsorship and then in turn affected what this tournament is going to be able to give back to charity this year?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that's a good question, and of course I can say that I am extremely proud and pleased to have the sponsor that I have in MasterCard and what they have done. And of course you cannot ignore what you read in the newspapers and what you hear on television about the economy and so on.
But the world doesn't stop; it keeps going. I was born in the depression, I was raised in the depression, and it's going to go on, and it's going to continue to happen. The economy is bad, sure. But we talk too much about it. We make too big an issue out of it. We need to get to the business of curing what the problem is, and to have a sponsor, they're not going to just all go away. They're going to continue to sponsor golf tournaments, and I happen to be very fortunate and have a great relationship with MasterCard and that sponsorship that they have offered us.
I would just hope that everyone in this room and everyone in the business of golf and being sponsors understand that we will continue. We'll be good. And I'm most appreciative of the fact that we have them. They've supported our program very, very much, and they will continue to, and I appreciate that. But I think it will get better with time with other sponsors in the business.

Q. I have two questions if I may relating to Ryo Ishikawa. It may seem like a million years ago, but do you personally remember when you were 17?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I'm old, I'm not that old (laughter). Sure, I remember when I was 17. Was that the end of that question?

Q. What were you doing when you were 17?
ARNOLD PALMER: Playing golf, same as he is right now, doing the things that he was doing. I played my first PGA tournament when 16, and I played at the Dapper Dan in Pittsburgh, so I'm familiar with that situation. I think his record is far better than mine was then, but we were on a similar course, and I think what he's doing is wonderful.

Q. Can you recall your experience at your first Masters?
ARNOLD PALMER: Very well. I can almost remember every shot I hit in my first Masters, and that was 1955. According to my records, I think I finished 9th in the tournament, and it was -- I won some money, and I could take it, which I wasn't able to do prior to that because of the PGA restriction on apprenticeship. So I can recall most everything that happened.

Q. I was wondering if you could tell us about what it was like, you mentioned playing the Winter Series and then working your way up toward Augusta. You talked about the treatment and the conditions you found at Augusta, but I'd be curious how much it was on the player's mind, the Masters tournament itself, how much you worked up your game with an eye toward Augusta. And secondly, when did the press back then start focusing on the Masters? In other words, did you start getting questions about the Masters when you were at LA and Pebble Beach, or did it come later?
ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, I think it came a little later. There was never a time when it wasn't a question about the Masters and playing in it. But it wasn't concentrated heavily on Augusta. I think it really came to the front probably about the time we started playing in Florida, around Pensacola, or coming to St. Petersburg and so forth and then to Miami. And then everybody, the press, started talking about Augusta and going to the Masters. It was a subject that we all thought a lot about.
After the first year I earned my way in because after the first year I was national amateur champion, and that was before they made the rule that if you turn professional you lose that status. So I had an exemption to Augusta, and we talked about that from time to time.

Q. The Palmer Cup must be a source of pride for you as players come out of college and enter the PGA TOUR. How do you see that synergy continuing and growing in years to come?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I see it coming pretty good right now. I'm pleased with the Palmer Cup and probably a lot of the people in this room don't even know what it is. But it's the fact that it's a lot of young men who are going to end up right where we are now playing the TOUR, and it represents Europe and the United States, and most of them are collegiates.
This year it will be at Cherry Hills, and they're really coming on very strong with the tournament there. I'm going to go there, as a matter of fact, and visit while that tournament is on. Since I've had some experience at Cherry Hills, it could be a lot of fun for me, and I'm looking forward to seeing all those young guys there.

Q. How does having Ishikawa here enhance the tournament nationally and globally?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think it says something to the international world of golf. Here is a young man who has great character. What little I've talked to him I was very impressed with him, and of course I've read about his promise in Japan and tournaments that he's been playing in and how he has really captured the imagination of the Japanese people, which I think is pretty doggone good.
It gives a lot of young people kind of an incentive to do and watch what he does, and of course it could mean just a world of good for our young people and for the game of golf, the fact that they can see a young man who is 17 years old, what he has established already in his home country and now is taking to the rest of the world. I can't tell you how great I think that is and how much influence that will have on the young people who have an opportunity to read and see what he's doing.

Q. I'm sure that injuries such as bad backs have been common in golf forever, but do you sense that -- Tiger's knee, Vijay had knee surgery, Fred Funk has had serious knee problems, do you sense that injuries are more prevalent nowadays than when you were back in your prime, and are there more different kinds of injuries?
ARNOLD PALMER: I think injuries have always been a factor in any sport, and in golf particularly. I think we're probably more conscious of the kind of injuries we see and hear about in golf, and of course the things that we do to overcome those injuries. Part of that, I think, comes from the fact that these young people are spending so much time becoming physical, and the more physical they become, the more aware they will become of an injury, whether it's a minor injury or a major injury, and that's simply because they are in such good shape. What they're doing to get in shape, sometimes that can cause a problem, a minor injury.
We're probably more aware. But that is something that -- I'm not sure that it's more prevailing than it was, but we will be aware of a good player like Tiger having an injury or a guy that is a national champion having something go wrong with him physically. Do we make too much of it? Maybe we do. Maybe a week off or a couple weeks off sometimes cure those injuries.

Q. I see you're paired today with hockey legend Bobby Orr, and I know through the years you've played with so many great athletic legends. I'm curious if you could give us one or two of your more memorable days in those circumstances, and if you believe there's a common thread that runs through so many of the great athletes.
ARNOLD PALMER: I would like to think -- and I am playing with Bobby Orr and I have nothing but admiration for him. He is one of the greatest athletes that I have ever seen in any sport, and he is just a great guy. Just the association that I have with him is a privilege for me. And in hockey and in golf, there seems to be a correlation or a parallel there that ties together.
I know a lot of hockey players that have been very good golfers, some great golfers, and I think Bobby is in that group, that he has found something that he really enjoys doing, and I'm happy to be playing with him today.
Most athletes for some reason like to find golf as something they can do. I can go back to my college days, and I had a guy that roomed right next to me by the name of Bill George, played for the Chicago Bears, and I taught him to play golf, and he became a pretty good golfer. The first time I saw him swing a golf club, it looked like a monkey with a toothpick (laughter), but he became a pretty good player, and he was a great football player.

Q. Can you discuss some of the specific changes you have planned to this course?
ARNOLD PALMER: As far as the visible part of the golf course and the routing of golf course, there won't be any changes. In other words, the routing will be much the same as it is now. The greens and the undulations will be very subtle; there will not be any major undulation changes. It will be, as I say, subtle.
One of the reasons this came up is that we really wanted to just bring the golf course more up to modern standards architecturally, and the greens, because of the problems that we have had with the grasses, we're changing the dirt, simple as that, to give the grasses a better shot at becoming standard.
What are we doing in the other areas? We will do some runoff areas, which we don't have very many now. We have a couple. We'll put a few more runoff areas, and we'll eliminate some of the sand traps that we feel are unnecessary, and we'll do more picture sand traps, meaning you will be able to see the sand traps, and they will be more visible from the shooting areas, meaning a tee shot or an iron shot into the green.

Q. You saw obviously this morning how popular Mr. Ishikawa is at the photo op, and of course that comes with expectations for him. At such a young age could you offer some advice for him to make sure that he stays on the proper path to success?
ARNOLD PALMER: Sure, I could offer a lot of advice, but he may not take it. I think one thing that I would advise him to do is stick on his normal life expectations, what he likes to do, school, sports, other sports, not just golf all the time, and lead a fairly normal life, keeping in mind that at his age now, he has a wonderful opportunity to become another Tiger Woods. Tiger really spent a lot of time getting himself golf-wise to where he is today, and he also went to school, and he got an education and he had a father that leaned on him, and he enjoyed that. That's the kind of advice that I would give to this young man.

Q. You decided to play this year, which is great. Could you talk a little bit about how you feel about your game and how you expect to play this afternoon?
ARNOLD PALMER: (Smiling) They really talked me into playing. My game is -- well, I really know what it's like to have a fun game, because it sure as hell doesn't have anything to do with the real strategy of playing the game of golf. I'm not happy with my golf. I still enjoy it. That's, I suppose, a major thing about why I'm playing and what I do in golf today. I play here in the Shootout, and most of these guys are accountants or stockbrokers or engineers or home builders, and they all beat me. And that tells you something about my golf. And I hate it (laughter), but I still love golf.
MARK STEVENS: Thank you very much for taking the time, Mr. Palmer, and good luck today.

End of FastScripts

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