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March 14, 2001

Arnold Palmer


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: We'd like to thank Mr. Palmer for joining us for his annual interview in the media center here at the Bay Hill Invitational. I guess you're becoming a regular here in the media center because you joined us at the Bob Hope when you shot your age the other day.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I hope that happens a lot. But we'll see.

JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Well, we'd like to just begin by you maybe talking a little bit about the condition of the golf course. We hear it's in great condition.

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, the golf course, it seems like I say this every year, but it's the best it's ever been. The roughs are going to be tough. We are cutting them. And I think we've cut them, and unless the rains precipitated a lot of growth -- today, we may top them at about 3 1/2 inches, and we may not. But if we do not, they are tough. The ball is going -- with the new Jacobsen mowers that we are using, which makes the rough stand up, other than when we mow it usually falls down. Now it will stand and the ball will go down in the rough. So my advice to the players is: Keep it out of the rough. The greens, of course, you know we had some rain. That will soften the greens a little bit, but in the Pro-Am yesterday, I noticed that they were very firm and fast. We will continue to try to make that happen where the guys are going to have the hit the high, soft shots, which most of these young guys do pretty well. Overall, I think the golf course is the best it has been.

Q. Do you have strong feelings one way or another on the whole scoring issue? Would it bother you if somebody came in here and shot 20-odd under or would you rather see them have to work a little harder?

ARNOLD PALMER: I will be a little presumptuous and think they are not going to shoot 29-under, but if they do, I can also tell that you they will have played pretty damn good golf. With the condition of the golf course, I just don't anticipate that kind of score. I could be surprised because they are shooting some pretty low scores. We will see how that works out. If they shoot 29-under par is going to be changed next year. I can promise you that. (Laughter.)

Q. You said the other day that this is going to be a very special year. Could it be because, in part, there are 16 foreign players and you are so diverse in the field this year in terms of culture?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, we have the best field we've ever had and we've been very fortunate over the year. So it is a special year. It's a special year with, Tiger defending champion, and with the field we have. I am sorry that Davis Love and David Duval aren't here. That isn't going to affect this tournament. We still are going to have a really great field of players, and the scores are going to be good. If the weather stays much as it has been, they will be good scores. I don't have any question about that. But as I say, if they get too low, par might be lowered next year. (Laughs).

Q. Do you find it all the amusing, people talking about Tiger's slump? Do you find it amusing?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course all of you are too young to remember, but back in the 60s, in the early 60s middle, 60s and late 60s, I had slumps. Did it bother me? At first. And I'm sure that Tiger said it a little bit yesterday, but at first, it bothered me that the media said that I was in a slump. I felt like I was still playing pretty good golf, and I'm sure that Tiger feels the same way, when you look at his scoring average and look at what he's done. You know, golf is tough. It's not something that you can just week-in and week-out hit every shot the way you want to, and it doesn't take a lot of shots off-line to catch up to you in this day and age when they are shooting the scores they are shooting. But I also have one little anecdote to talk about, and that is that the media looks for an opportunity like this to talk about a slump, and I don't have a problem with that. That calls attention to the game and it calls attention to the good players. So, I feel that you just sort of have at it. And Tiger's in a slump and I agree with you, but he may win the next six tournaments he plays, too.

Q. A year ago when Tiger won this, he had won for the third time in his six tournaments of the year and went on to a spectacular season. This year we've had 11 tournaments and 10 different winners; none of them is Tiger. Has that helped generate more interest in the game, as compared to the same guy winning every week?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think you said it. It's good, the fact that you have 11 different winners and that Tiger is lurking in the sidelines right now, everybody is waiting for him to come out of this not-winning situation, including the players. That is going to cause some conversation and I think it's very good. I think it's good for the game. I don't think it's hurting Tiger that much that he has not won. I think his confidence level will probably come up and he will win. Of course, you know, if he stands in the food line, I'll help him. (Laughter.)

Q. Do you think that modern agronomy has as much to do with the low scoring as other factors?

ARNOLD PALMER: Thank you. And I mean that sincerely. You know, we talk about equipment and we talk about all of the things that are making the scoring better, and I can tell you that you walk out on the golf course -- and any golf course that we play today, the conditions are absolutely perfect. You couldn't ask for better playing conditions. You know, I played in Texas when Mike Souchak shot the low PGA score, at the time. And conditions were deplorable. Of course, the one thing that happened in that event was that we were teeing -- setting the ball up. So that would have a tendency to take away the bad conditions. Any time you can set the ball up, you're going to have better shot-making because you are hitting from an absolute firm position every time. But, you know, I started in that tournament -- I started walking and I was 5'10 and 3/4 quarters when I finished; I was over six feet tall. My feet swelled up so I was taller than when I started. So conditions in those days were not anywhere near what they are today. I could point out some things, like we are cutting the fairways here at 3/8ths. The greens are on the bottom of the reels. Everything is just about as good as you can get it. We're trying to firm up the greens, and the rain will soften that and hopefully we'll be able to control that over the next four days. But in those days, things were not anywhere near the condition that they are today. I remember my first time at the Masters, I played the winter tour in '55 and I could not wait to get to the golf course because I knew what the conditions of the golf course was going to be. In those days, the Masters is what is it is today, absolutely perfect. But the rest of the golf courses made you want to get there in a hurry to play under those conditions. So the question was a good one. We are looking at really near perfect conditions for playing, and, sure, we have a lot of equipment. We have a golf ball that's fantastic. A lot of golf balls; they are all pretty good and we have some equipment that's good. I don't think you can do much about the equipment. I think you can do something about the golf ball, and I very definitely think that that is where we're going to have to have a little more control over the game. Whether anyone likes it or not, it is not a problem that I can see right now, but it's one that we are going to have to address sooner or later.

Q. Is it true that back then, even a lot of the golf balls, you would have to search to find ones that were perfectly round? You would have trouble finding good golf balls?

ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, in the days you're talking about -- I remember I learned a little trick from Cary Middlecoff. You guys probably don't even remember Cary Middlecoff. He carried a stainless steel ring, and he never took a ball and put it in play without checking it to see if it was perfectly round -- just answering your question. He would do it all the way around, 360 degrees around that golf ball on every angle to make sure that it was perfectly round. And in a dozen balls, a dozen box, he would probably find three or four that were not perfectly round. And of course, that led me to do the same thing. I think a lot of players in those days started doing that. Today, my goodness, the balls fit right in there perfect. I still have my ring, too.

Q. Have you given any thought to playing in the Pennsylvania Classic?

ARNOLD PALMER: The Pennsylvania Classic? Well, I've given a lot of thought about it because a lot of people are asking me. Have I made a decision? No, I don't know whether -- my game has been kind of rickety, and if I played, I would have to figure out a way to play without taking a spot away from one of the younger players. I wouldn't do that.

Q. Do you feel any pressure to play, given the impact that you would have in that part of the state?

ARNOLD PALMER: That's part of my dilemma. Hoping that if I played it would have an impact on the tournament and the future of the tournament. We're looking forward to that tournament becoming a real classic in the State of Pennsylvania.

Q. As you get a little further away from the controversy with the banned driver last year and that kind of thing, when you look back on it now, how do you look back on it? Are you a little disappointed or angry or sad?

ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, I'm not angry and I'm not sad. I still think about -- well, some of the media, you guys that took some shots at me, I think unfairly. If you would have called me and talked to me, I would have told you what my position is, rather than having the Benedict Arnold signs and the traitor signs. That kind of hurt me a little but, but I've gotten over that. I can honestly say right now that I think I was right and I still think I'm right. When you look at players that are playing golf today, the professionals, they are great. They are good. But golf is flat right now. Part of the reason it's flat is because people don't play as well as they would like to play, and if a player can make it a little easier and a little better for them, then why can't they use it? They are not out here beating the pros. They are playing their own games and having their own games. Now, you can fault me for saying that this club can't be used in competition, and I agree with you, it can't and shouldn't be. But to say that it's cheating for a guy to go out and hit a club that let's him enjoy the game a little bit more, I think that's a little farfetched. I think that's caring it a little too far. When you also add the ingredients that you can hold onto your shirt with a long putter and putt, and that's legal; or you can use a range finder for handicap purposes to play a round of golf, and on, I could go through -- and you can use square grooves and do all of these other things that have far more impact on the game of golf than a club that allows a few people that are higher-handicap players to hit the ball a little further and get a little more enjoyment out of the game. That's where I'm coming from. When you also look at the other fact, that 95 percent of the world are using these clubs legally. Nothing illegal about them anywhere else in the world. So you have to really look at that and you have to look and see what is happening. And one club, I just don't understand that. And, finally, and I will put this to bed. That is that the test that they use to check the validity of this golf club is invalid. Now, that's where I'm coming from.

Q. A quick follow-up on that, if you don't mind. If the ERCII were allowed in competition in America, do you think scores would be even lower? Do you think it would have an impact on scoring?

ARNOLD PALMER: You know, that's an opinion. I don't know whether they would be a lot lower. I can only go by the statistics that I look at on the European Tour, and see that the scores haven't changed. That's a pretty good statistic. They are not that much, if any, better. They are not that much better.

Q. You mentioned that golf was a little bit flat. Could you speak to programs like Tiger's clinics and AJJA programs and First Tee to see what your thoughts are on how that is developing how that is going to help impact the game of golf in the future?

ARNOLD PALMER: I think all of the things that you have mentioned are going to have an impact. We have not seen that impact yet, but we will. I think the First Tee Program is going to have the greatest effect down the road on golf and the influence and the future of the game, probably more than any other single thing. The people -- and I'm seeing it happen everywhere and I'm getting requests to make appearance at First Tee Programs and opening of First Tee golf courses and practice areas. That will have a definite affect on the game.

Q. Can you recap the discussions you've had with Trey Holland since this spat?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, my discussions with Trey have been very positive. They have not been negative, and they have been with the thought in mind that the United States Golf Association is only trying to protect the game and keep it on the same tradition and level of integrity that it has always had. I like Trey Holland. I think he is a very honorable guy and I think he's going a very good job. The fact this we had a disagreement, and we did. Have you ever agreed with everyone that you've talked to in the world about anything? I don't see that there's a problem with us having a disagreement. And I am going to continue to support the USGA in every way I can because I think they are very important to the game of golf and to the future of what we know as the game of golf, and I love it and I'm going to do everything I can. The fact that we disagree on a golf club isn't going to change that.

Q. When you mentioned that the test is invalid, what is it about it that makes it invalid? And in a broader context, where do you see this headed? How do you see this being resolved eventually, with the R&A and the USGA?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I'm not smart enough to tell you where I see it being resolved. I think the R&A, I can only tell you this: If they have assumed a stance, I think they are going to stay in that stance. That's just my opinion. I have no one telling me officially that they are or they aren't. I think they are going to continue where they are in the rules and in their position on the COR of a golf club, and I don't see them changing anything in the golf ball, either, at this point. I think that's just -- I think that both organizations are trying to find a common ground for maybe controlling the golf ball at this point, I don't think that's happening either.

Q. How do you feel about Jim Colbert winning this weekend two days after his 60th birthday and after his bout with cancer?

ARNOLD PALMER: I think Jim is doing a hell of a job. No question, that he is pretty strong, the way he's played and the fact that he's had prostate cancer and come back the way he has. He's still a young kid. So I don't -- 60 doesn't bother me at all.

Q. You mentioned the difficulty and the disappointment, some of the criticism this year levied at you. Has it been as trying professionally as you've ever experienced?

ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, I don't think so. I've had other things happen. Certainly, it ranks some of the things that were said. Had I had the reporter or the person that wrote some of the stuff called me and talked it out, it would not have been as sensational as they made it, and that's where I have a problem with it.

Q. Were you disappointed at Trey's comments, the way they came out with the controversy?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I have a theory on what happened there, and I think maybe that was a little out of context. And the fact that I don't think Trey Holland is a vicious man at all. I think he's a pretty nice guy. I think that he -- when he made comments like, "Arnie drives to the first tee and he has broken eight rules of the game before he tees off," I think he was funny, I really do. I don't think that that was something that was serious. Matter of fact, when Arnie does that he breaks 15 rules, because he has two bags and he has about 28 clubs in each bag. So I don't mind that. I'm playing golf for fun. I'm going out with my guys and I play in a shootout every day and I play anywhere from, oh, 12 to 50 guys. It's a fun game when we do that. When I go to a tournament, I have 14 clubs. I stay in the regulations. I play according to the rules. I think Trey was kidding when he was saying that.

Q. This is going to be Byron Nelson's last year to hit the ceremonial tee shot. Who do you think would be a good replacement?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think Byron is going to be doing it for a while.

Q. This is Byron's last year. He said this is going to be his last year.

ARNOLD PALMER: He may change his last mind. No, I'm not going to do it next year, if that's what you're asking. (Laughter.)

Q. Seriously, can you think of someone else that you think would be appropriate?

ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think Jack's gotten to the point where he should -- (Laughter.).

Q. Now that you've shot your age in a tournament, any different expectations this week and at Augusta for yourself?

ARNOLD PALMER: You know what my goals are and I don't mind the question. This week, if I make the cut, that would be a victory for me. And the same thing is true at Augusta, because, as you know, it's been a long time since I've made the cut in a PGA TOUR event. That is going to probably drive me off, not doing that. So, my goal is to make the cut and have fun doing it. But I'm not going to clutter the field. I'm not going to show up very often playing in regular tour events. Bay Hill, it's kind of traditional. The Masters is my favorite, and it's something that it is kind of tradition that you do that. So I will there. But any others, Pennsylvania Classic, as I said, if I take a spot away from a young guy, I won't be there.

Q. So would you say you're in a slump?

ARNOLD PALMER: I'm in a slump.

Q. There's going to be a lot of focus on Tiger at the Masters because he's trying to win four majors in a row. What's your feeling on if he does? Would that constitute a Grand Slam or does he have to do it in the same year?

ARNOLD PALMER: That is ridiculous. The fact that he's won -- if he wins it, he's starting a new one, but it's not a continuation of last year. You know, that takes the fun out of it. That takes the kick out of winning the Grand Slam. What you're saying is that -- Jones, if he had won the British Open, the British Amateur and the U.S. Open and then a year later on the U.S. Amateur and the next year then he won the Grand Slam. That's not the case. If there's someone that can do what we're talking about, it is Tiger. There is no question that he is the odds-on favorite of possibly doing that. But it's in one year.

Q. Did you start out thinking going into the year, "I can win all four" or is it too hard to think that far ahead?

ARNOLD PALMER: In the early 60s, yes. But I've got to explain how this all happened and how it sort of transformed the Grand Slam of golf. When I won the Masters and I won the Open and I had previous to that declared that I was going to the British Open at St. Andrews and I was going over to play. And Bob Drum and I were having a couple of -- those clear things, water with ice and stuff. We were talking about it and we talked about the tournaments and how they were happening. I said, "Wouldn't this be unique to have a Grand Slam of golf?" This is 1960. And Bob wrote about it and it's gone on from there and that's how it really got to be what we know as now the modern Grand Slam. That year, when we were talking about it, I said, "Gees, Bob, wouldn't it be great if I would win the British Open, comeback to Akron and win the PGA?" And that's the conversation in the airplane flying across the Atlantic. I lost by a shot and that was the end of that. But in the ensuing years when I won the Masters, there was no question about the fact that that was in the back of my head all the time.

Q. Did you mention the words, "Grand Slam"?

ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, absolutely. That was the first conversation, because of the fact that we just copied from the Grand Slam of Golf, British Open, U.S. Open and so on.

Q. I wonder if you could talk on your years when you went in '61 and '63, when you did not win the Masters; and therefore, would not win the Grand Slam. How much of a letdown that was as you geared up for the?

ARNOLD PALMER: I can't say I lit up in trying to win the other tournaments. But your momentum, my momentum in those days was to do it. And I lost the '61 Masters with a double-bogey on the last hole and then I won the British Open and so on. And it's a disappointment, sure. But it doesn't stop your life or your career. You've got other things to do and get on with. So you're not going to make it a life-and-death situation. Tom Dattilo, who is here from Cooper Tire, please stand up. Last night, Cooper Tire, who is our major sponsor in this event has gone on with the Children'S Miracle Network. I assume you and they have -- we had a check from Cooper last night for 500,000. And, of course that could grow, couldn't it, Tom? Let me just introduce Tom. Would you come up?

TOM DATTILO: In conjunction with our dealers around the country, we're going to raise $1 million for kids throughout the country, and half that contribution or approximately half $1 million will go to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women. The other half will go to all of the women's and children's hospitals around the country. So we'll be raising $1 million in total for kids, half a million for the Arnold Palmer Hospital.

ARNOLD PALMER: And I might add that Tom is the first member of a national advisory council for the hospital, and the hospital is now taking on an expansion that will end up being the largest hospital in the United States of its type, and that will be children and women with cancer centers, heart centers and all of the other things that I can't tell you about. But just to give you an idea, we're about 300,000 square feet right now operating, and when this is finished, we will be about 1,300,000 square feet and Cooper Tire, one of the big contributors and benefactors to this whole program, our lead sponsor.

End of FastScripts....

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