SportsArnold Palmer Was Always the Coolest Guy in the Room
Remembering the King.
Almost five years ago now, I sat in a cab heading downtown towards the Gansevoort Hotel in New York's Meatpacking District with butterflies in my stomach. You see, I was en route to one of my first “assignments” as a young journalist interning at a sports magazine, and that assignment involved attending some Callaway Golf event with Arnold Palmer. The Arnold Palmer. And as I sat in that cab, already nervous, two things dawned on me: One, no one ever specified to me what exactly my assignment was; two, even after working in the golf industry for a year or two at that point, I didn’t actually know all that much about Arnold Palmer. He was one the greats, of course, but that was a truth spoken so often by so many that I never actually stopped to investigate what made him great in the first place. So I called up my grandfather, who quietly idolized Arnold Palmer (because idolizing Arnie too loudly would be a slap in the face to the level of preternatural ease that the King seemed to operate at), for a crash course.
It’s an odd thing to hear your 80-something-year-old grandfather—your own idol—talk about his idol. It’s even odder to hear someone so sure-spoken struggle to find the words to appropriately sum up that idol. Not because he suddenly forgot everything he knew about Arnold Palmer, but because to him, Arnold Palmer meant so many things. But what he ultimately landed on was this: “He was just so… cool.” The way he didn’t just navigate a golf course but attacked a golf course? Cool. The way he could seemingly tap into some otherworldly gear to win a tournament at the last possible moment? Cool. The way he could utterly and completely implode at the biggest moments in his career, only to come back and redeem himself in even bigger moments? Cool. The way he, along with with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, formed the Big Three long before Bird, McHale, and Parish in Boston? Cool. The hair, the polos, the attitude, the cigarette dangling from his mouth? All of it was so. Damn. Cool.
So as I finally arrived to the Gansevoort, my nerves were off the chart. And as I walked into the room and saw Arnold Palmer sitting there, sipping on a drink, I nearly bolted for the exit. There’s no way I’m qualified to talk to this man, I thought. But I pushed forward and I sat down and he said “How are you?” and I mumbled out something that hopefully resembled, “Good” and then the event itself started, but I have no idea what it was actually about because I kept stealing glances at the man sitting a foot or so away from me trying to figure out what exactly my story was going to be about.
As the event was wrapping up, I realized something. I was never sent to that event to write a story. In truth, the event was one of those over-the-top PR events I largely ignore nowadays for a new line of golf clubs or golf balls or somethingsomethingsomething. I was sent there because Arnold Palmer was going to be there, and everyone else in the office had been graced by his presence at some point in time. This was a rite of passage, to rub shoulders with a legend. So as I packed up my notebook and recorder, I approached the King and told him thank you but also that my grandfather was a huge fan of his. He seemed genuinely touched by this and asked me about my grandfather. And then he asked me about myself. And then he asked if I wanted to stick around and have a drink. So we sipped on Ketel One and we talked about golf and women and life and I didn’t have a story. But in that hour, I completely understood what my grandfather had told me earlier. Arnold Palmer was just so cool.