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March 17, 2004

Arnold Palmer


TODD BUDNICK: We'd like to thank everybody for coming today. We welcome Arnold Palmer to the media center.

Arnold, this is the 26th playing of the Bay Hill Invitational presented by MasterCard here at Bay Hill, 39th annual event. It's your 26th appearance, as well, and it looks like it could be a very historic year with Tiger Woods going for five in a row this week. Why don't we open up with just some comments from you about the upcoming tournament.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, thank you. I'm a little hoarse, so bear with me.

I think we've got a great field. We've got a great golf course, and things look like they are shaping up very, very well, even to the tune that the good Lord saw fit to put a little water on my greens. (Laughter.) And I'm looking forward to it, not particularly playing, but to the tournament and to watch and see what takes place.

I think it's very interesting that Tiger could very possibly set a PGA TOUR record that has been never touched or even close. I think someone won four one time. I won three a couple times, but five is really stretching it.

And of course, I have to remark that I can remember since the fact that this is our 26th tournament, that on the first tournament there, were two factors I'd like to mention. One was the first one was for $100,000 which was stretching us a little to make that; and this year we're playing for $5 million and we have to stretch for that, too. And the number of people in this press conference on year one was I think two reporters, both of them local, and Doc Giffin and myself and a few friends like Hootie Giles.

But I am pleased to see so many of you here. I think that tells us something about what is happening on the PGA TOUR and what is happening here at this tournament.

Q. With the Masters coming up, what type of flood of emotions are you anticipating going in there, knowing not necessarily it's your last year, because you can keep going back and going to the dinners, but playing in that thing for last time with all of your history there, what do you suppose that's going to be like?

ARNOLD PALMER: Of course, I think it's going to be exciting for me and it's going to be somewhat sentimental. But kind of an opportunity to say good bye to all of the fans who have been so supportive over the last 50 years and have been the reason that I have played as long as I have.

And there's some other things going to happen there. First of all, for the best part, my entire family are going to be there, my grandchildren and their parents and that's kind of special.

As far as Augusta is concerned and the last time, you know, I may be a little beyond where I should have been, but, playing. But the fact that the tradition and Augusta was kind of built on the fact that the players kept coming back year after year after year, and that was one of the things that I think made the Masters what it is.

I can remember when I first started playing and went there to play in the golf in a golf tournament that I wanted to win, but importantly, I saw people like Craig Wood and Gordon Smith and Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson and Hogan and Snead, and that was important to me as a player. It was something that made Augusta different. And the fact that those people thought enough of the tournament and what was happening there to come long after their playing days were over.

Q. Speaking of the Masters, if you hit the ball over on 12 this year and get an embedded ball, will you is Ken Venturi for a ruling and what you should do?

ARNOLD PALMER: Next question. (Laughter.)

Q. After this year, will you still play the par 3 tournament and practice rounds so fans can still see you out there?

ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, I don't know. I have to think about that. I wouldn't be surprised if I played a practice round in the years to come or played the par 3. I haven't given that a lot of thought. I'm going to keep the door open to do it if I want to.

Q. Also, would you be open to be an honorary starter in 2005?

ARNOLD PALMER: A couple of years ago, that was something that was suggested; that was put off, basically, and I haven't been confronted with that since.

Q. We're doing a story of on the history of this course. What made you decide to take over ownership of this course back in 1969?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that's a long story. In the 60s, I had been looking for the ideal place in Florida, particularly Florida, to spend some time in the winter and practice and work on my game. I had looked at a lot of places. I started out in south Florida. I went to the west, east, and I came here in '60 five and played in a Chamber of Commerce fund raiser. I loved the golf course. I played with Jack and Dave Regan and Don Cherry, as a matter of fact. After the exhibition, I asked if the golf course was for sale. And they said no, it isn't.

I said, "Well, if it ever is, I'd be interested in buying it." They said, well let's talk and that started it.

Why did I come here? A couple of reasons. I love freshwater. The lakes here are pristine, nice boating, good fishing and very quiet. This development was stalled. Nothing was happening; that suited me to the tee, over 700 acres and nice golf course.

And from '65 until '69, we negotiated. They wanted me to buy in as one of the partners and I chose not to do that but in '69, things were getting kind of rocky and the club wasn't flying and they weren't spending any money on it. It was getting kind of raggedy and they came back. I had a couple of young attorneys who were part buddies of mine and they negotiated a deal and bought it.

Q. I know you were joking a few minutes ago when he was asking the question about the book, but what's your official statement? Are you going to make a statement about the book?

ARNOLD PALMER: I don't know what book you're talking about.

Q. The Ken Venturi.

ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, that book. (Laughter.) I don't know a thing about it, I really don't, and I'm not really too interested. That's my comment.

Q. When you and Jack played with Tiger back, I think it was in '95 when he was 19 years old at Augusta, a practice round, I think it was Jack that said "he's going to win more Masters than Arnie and I combined," which would be 11 Masters. Can you recall what you noticed about Tiger in that round and what impressed you and to what degree he's met your expectations or exceeded them?

ARNOLD PALMER: Sure. My comments and Jack's were somewhat the same, and he has not disappointed us in his ability to play. He is very strong and he's got a great talent or playing the game of golf. At 27, it certainly doesn't look like it's diminishing.

And if you think about it, most of the players that we know in history, with some exceptions if you want to go back in history, have their best years between 27 and 35. So I think that there is a real potential for him to win a lot more Masters and a lot of other golf tournaments.

I think that it depends on how intense he remains and continues to be about playing the game and winning. But at this point, given the same energy that he has used to do what he has done thus far, there's a lot to be said for energy, but given that, it's hard to say how many golf tournaments he'll win, and that includes Masters.

Q. You've probably played here more than anyone else, what is it about Tiger's game and this course that he's won four times and possibly a fifth, from your standpoint?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, the golf course is difficult and it has been difficult from day one. The greens have been small; they are not huge greens. Before we changed them three years ago, it was tough then. And, of course, the fact that we put TifEagle on the greens, did not mean that we were out really trying to make the golf course extremely difficult. That was not our major objective. It was to make the golf course difficult, yes, but more to make the putting surfaces much better.

The grass that was on those greens was Tifdwarf. It was old and we had a lot of intrusions into it. So we really were changing the greens for the purpose of making them better from a playing standpoint, not just for this tournament, but for the membership, too.

Q. Why does Tiger's game fit this course better than anywhere?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, that's pretty obvious. When the greens got hard and in the first couple of years, a couple of things happened that I did not anticipate. What was that? Well, we put the TifEagle on the greens on the putting surfaces and very little into the surrounding area. We just put it on the surface itself. Well, in the surrounding area we had other grasses like Tifdwarf and fairway grasses and they were soft because of age. They had been there a long time and when the ball hit in that area, particularly with the same amount of water that we put on the greens themselves that, made those areas softer.

And what the players objected to then was the fact that the ball would hit short by a couple of feet and stop. And a couple feet forward, it would hit on the surface itself and bounce, and I was in complete sympathy with that. We tried and have tried for three years to firm up the entire area prior to the green and on the green itself. It's more difficult than you think to do that, but we think now we are about to accomplish that. This year, it will be much better and they are improving as we go.

Q. Joe Torre has told a few of thus spring that you were instrumental in sort of causing him to rethink his future. Can you just talk a little bit about your relationship with him and what happened this off season when you played golf with him?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I haven't played golf with him for a long time. But we did go whale watching early this year and we had a good conversation.

I like Joe. I think he's a great guy. We talked about all kind of things. We got talking about retiring and I said, I just made the comment, I said, "Joe, you know, if I retired, I wouldn't know what to do. I'd go crazy. I'm going to a golf and do my thing and continue to work as long as I live."

He said, "You know, I've got to think about that a little bit." And of course, you now know the result of that conversation.

I said, "What the hell you want to retire for? What are you going to do"? And he has a good point, and I sympathize with this. The one thing that he brought to the conversation was the fact the traveling is a problem when you have a family, and Joe does have a family; that kind of interferes a little bit.

But he loves what he's doing and that's obvious. And he's done a pretty damn good job.

I said, "What's the use, why do you want to retire? Just keep at it." That's where it ended up.

Q. How do you think the Masters has changed since you first started going there? What occurs to you as what has happened the biggest change over all of these years?

ARNOLD PALMER: I don't think the Masters has changed all that much. It has not changed my any more than anything else in our lives today. The technology of the game has changed it a little bit. The technology and maintaining the golf course at Augusta has changed it a little bit simply because they have put bentgrass on the greens.

The conditions and general things at Augusta are much the same as they have been from the beginning. But if you recall, and you're not old enough to know this, but 50 years ago when I played at Augusta, it was fantastic. It was one of the best places to play golf in the world. For a lot of reasons which still exist.

But, in those days, the bermudagrass on the greens and they say things about the greens being hard, well, the bermudagrass on the greens at Augusta in 1955, unless it rained a lot, which sometimes it did, the grass the greens were as hard as this floor. One of the things you had to learn to do at Augusta in those days, was get the ball on the green and keep it there. Even though they were good grass and good putting surfaces, they were much like Bay Hill, the ball bounced. When you hit a shot into them or when you hit a 4 or 5 wood or a 1 iron into them, the ball was scooting when it hit the greens. Today, if you hit a shot into the greens from the best part, it stops dead because it takes the bentgrass right out with it.

So that it a change. So the difference now, the greens are much faster now than they were in those days when the bermuda was there. It was hard, and they would let them dry; they got them very dry and they were overseeded. So they couldn't really get the speed up to where they can with the bent now.

TifEagle, the grasses that we're using now, you can get them up, if you want to see some grass greens, go to Seminole, you'll see TifEagle where the ball really flies across the greens.

Generally, the rest of the changes, larger field, considerably larger than it was in the early days. Changes, natural changes in the golf course, I never played a year at Augusta in 50 years that there were not some changes in the golf course, whether it was a mound or whether it was a sand trap, whether it was a tee backing up a little bit, whether it was a green being reshaped. They changed it every year in some manner or other.

So the changes that they have made, I've got to just figure that's to be able to cope with the technology, the ability of the players, a natural thing and a natural transition to present day.

Q. You mentioned the fans that followed you at Augusta all of those years and one reason why you keep playing; if they had not been there, when would you have stopped playing there? How much earlier?

ARNOLD PALMER: If the fans had not been there?

Q. The ones that are following you every year for 50 years.

ARNOLD PALMER: Hell, I know them all by name. (Laughter.) They call me at home most of the year. (Laughter.) See if I was going to play. And there's a lot of truth in that.

Some of the older fans now are still calling wanting tickets or whatever to get into the tournament. We try to accommodate as much as we can. But as you say, the fans have been great. I see people out on the West Coast, California, Arizona, that when I'm out there, they talk about coming to Augusta and want to know if I'm going to play.

Q. Of all of the traditions at the Masters, whether it's the invitation to Amateurs or the Champions Dinner, the green jacket, which do you think is the greatest?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, the things that I mentioned earlier about Augusta, with some of the players like Horton Smith, Jones, Craig Wood, just everybody, Herman Keiser, Claude Harmon back in the old days. That was a great tradition. And the remarks that went on at the Masters club dinner were remarks they'll remember forever and I won't repeat. But they were fun. They were fun and it was fun listening. The guys in those days used to badger each other, they kid each other, Snead and Nelson and Hogan, they would make remarks to each other and there would be a little rebuttal and I think that was one of the greatest things that as a young player, that I've ever found and enjoyed very, very much.

The other things, the traditions are the way they conduct the tournament. It really hasn't changed. It's much the same as it was in the early days.

I suppose the atmosphere in some of the locker rooms and the clubhouse has changed slightly, not tremendously, simply because the crowds are much larger now, there are more press, there are more officials, there are more people there. So they have to make adjustments as they have with the golf course.

Q. You've shown in the last year that you have a little bit of a sway with Hootie Johnson, if there was some kind of change to the Masters whether it was how they pick the field or anything, what kind of suggestion might you make for the future?

ARNOLD PALMER: I don't think I'd make any. I think Hootie is doing what he has been asked to do as chairman. I think he has handled it very well. I know that you could argue with me about some of that, but here we are, things are moving right along. We're back where we were last year if you want to put that on the counter. I think that things are just wonderful at Augusta and I think Hootie has done a good job.

Q. How much fun has it been for you, this tournament?

ARNOLD PALMER: This tournament?

Q. Over the years, how much fun has it been and are you still having fun with this tournament?

ARNOLD PALMER: I am. And of course, just watch what has happened here with this tournament, I just mentioned one earlier about the purse and the players and some of the things that have happened over the years have really been great and enjoyable for me. And to see the success of the event, all of you people here, to go down to the hospital where I was yesterday and look at what's happening there and have remarks of people around the world saying thanks for the hospital.

You know, there's a lot of people that have been involved in that little charity right there and the fact that they make their contributions every year may not be in this tournament, but it will be made some way or another and that goes on annually and it's continued. But it's partly because of the fact that the tournament has reminded them that we have a hospital and we're saving thousands of babies every year.

So with all of those things, plus, watching the changes at Bay Hill, just the club itself. We used to go off campus to do our parties. We do everything here now. That's some of the nice things, some of the things that I enjoy very much.

Last night, I entertained. You didn't know that, did you? (Laughter.) I played a piano concert for them, very proud of it, too. And will not elaborate. (Laughter.)

I'm going to do something this year that is of some interest I suppose. I'm going to do an exhibition and appearance in Detroit for the Amateur that I won 50 years ago. That will be in August. It is a charity. It's very much a charity and it's for the school children in Detroit, and that's going to be quite a big event.

Next I think I'd like Tim Finchem to come up and I think he has some things to talk about. And let me tell that you that benefits the Urban Children in Detroit. That is a school, it's very big and very important, and Betsy McCormack just arrived on the scene. Tim, it's all yours.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you, Arnold. Congratulations on another good year of preparation in the tournament. We're delighted that MasterCard is here as your partner this year. Things look like we have a great field, a great tournament there.

There are a couple of things I want to join you for here this morning. One was to announce something that you have been working on with me and our staff for a few weeks, and that is that there will be a special exhibit at the World Golf Hall of Fame later this year about Arnold Palmer. It will open on November 15 in conjunction with the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It will run until next spring. Our staff has been up in Latrobe working with your people about 7 million artifacts that you have up there. Really, to try to do a number of things.

Obviously, this exhibit want to tell a story of your 50 years competitively, but also, the kind of business career you've had using the golf as a platform for your business enterprises. It's an amazing story in and of itself, your golf course design work all over the world which continues today, the history of this championship and how you built it and made it happen, something that doesn't get talked about enough, the story of your philanthropy over the years and what that's involved and entailed here and Latrobe and around the country. And then, hopefully to tell a few things that maybe people don't know anything about, a few of those items.

Jack Peter is here, the executive director of the Hall of Fame for any of that you want to talk to Jack when we get done about the details. We'll have more to say about the details this summer. But we're excited about this, Arnold I hope you are, as well.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I am, Tim. And of course, I'm very proud of the Hall of Fame and what has happened there and what the PGA TOUR has done to help the PGA TOUR accomplish the things that they are accomplishing.

I will look forward to the exhibit and of course being there from time to time. I think there's an appearance sometime during that display.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: The day we open I think you're there. In fact, you have a golf tournament that day and introduction that night.

The other thing was, we obviously lost in the last year a great friend from a PGA TOUR perspective in Mark McCormack, a great friend of ours, and we thought that there should be some way which we can reflect on Mark and remember Mark's contributions to our sport. Of course, he made contributions to so many sports. But we wanted to just take a minute and do something that we hope will accomplish that.

In really being the innovator and visionary for sports marketing, Mark McCormack created an environment that we kind of take today for granted. Sports marketing globally is just an absolutely huge industry. We are a piece of it. We benefit from what has happened over the last 40 years to create sports marketing as an industry. For that, we will be indebted to Mark going forward.

In addition to that, Mark had a particular passion for golf, we all know that, and his partnership with Arnold is well known. In 1998 when there was a board created to oversee the World Golf Rankings, in recognition of Mark's creation of the original rankings, the Mark McCormack Award was inaugurated which is presented each year to the player who is No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking most weeks. That award was presented yesterday to Tiger Woods for the sixth consecutive year, and we will continue to recognize Mark that way for his involvement in the rankings.

But in addition to that, I think what a lot of people don't recognize is Mark's philanthropic efforts over the years in partnership with his wife, Betsy. They were involved in a big number of charities here and around the country. One in particular was a favorite of his, the House of Hope.

What we'd like to do is today recognize, remember Mark, and recognize his philanthropic commitment which, by the way is another things that's not noticed and was extended to IMG. IMG does a lot of charitable, philanthropic work that people are not involved in and that was also started by Mark.

Betsy is here and we want to make a special presentation to Betsy and Sara Trollinger, the founder of House of Hope. We'd like to ask them to come up and join Arnold and I to kick this off.

Betsy, I'd like to present you on behalf of the PGA TOUR a check for $25,000 to House of Hope and ask you, if you could, to share with mainly the television audience that will be watching this weekend and those weeks, the history of your commitment to House of Hope and with Sara, what House of Hope is all about.

BETSY McCORMACK: Thank you, Tim. First of all, I'd like to thank you very much for this contribution and the PGA TOUR for your involvement. It's very greatly appreciated. I'd look like to Arnold and the Bay Hill Invitational for your support of House of Hope. It evens a great deal.

Sara Trollinger started the House of Hope 19 years ago, with five women and $200. She has turned it into an absolute incredible success across the country, House of Hopes are growing. I have the honor of being the chairman of the board of the National House of Hope. House of Hope is a home for troubled teens and the vision is to heal the teens across America. The thing about Mark was that he was incredibly touched by visiting the House of Hope here in Orlando over several years and seeing the changes in these young people and seeing leadership qualities that existed in the direction of their life becoming deeply changed and very positive.

It is with great honor and pleasure that I can hand over this check to you, Sara.

SARA TROLLINGER: Thank you, Betsy, and thank you for supporting us. We are a faith industry and it is exciting for you and Mark to help us out. Mark McCormack and Betsy have really been instrumental in helping me fulfill my vision. We believe that by 2010 there will be a House of Hope within driving distance of every major city across the nation. So far there are 37 in the process, and we hold seminars here in Orlando to train people in starting a House of Hope.

A word about Mark. He visited House of Hope often. We would come down there he would sit in the boys and girls and share with them, and this may be part of Mark McCormack that a lot of people never saw. But I can remember one day in particular when he was there, and tears were rolling down his cheeks because he was so touched at what was happening in the these teenagers, and he encouraged them to find their identity so that they can be leaders of tomorrow so they can fulfill their destiny. He made a great impact on their lives and I just ma indebted to Betsy and will always remember Mark and the great things he did to help us. Thank you again.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you, Arnold, and good luck this week with the championship.

ARNOLD PALMER: Yes, thank you, Tim. I'm sharpening my game up. (Laughter.)

End of FastScripts.

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