The Head Nut sent this interview with Arnie around, I thought I’d share it with you:
RAND JERRIS: It’s an honor and a pleasure to welcome Arnold Palmer to the interview room here at the U.S. Open, he is a 3-time United States Golf Champion, having won the U.S. Amateur in 1954 and the U.S. Open in 1960 and the U.S. Senior Open in 1981. Arnold, maybe you can start us off with thoughts about Oakmont, what it means to you when you hear the words “Oakmont” and “U.S. Open.”
ARNOLD PALMER: I don’t know how extensive you want me to be, but Oakmont is Oakmont. And I don’t think with — from what I have been told and what I have seen myself Oakmont isn’t a great deal different than it’s been for years and years. They’ve changed a number of things, obviously added distance. I don’t think that — the thing that is going to probably have the most affect on everyone in this field is the greens. I don’t think the greens — maybe Mr. Ford can tell me, but I don’t think the greens have changed much in how many years, about 100, Bob? They’re going to be fast and they’re — and I have a feeling if it stays dry without thunder showers, they will be firm.
I don’t think they’ll be too — I think they will be reasonably firm, let’s call it that, and that’s pretty typical Oakmont. I’ve been talking to some of the guys that have been out there and I’ve talked to some of the former champions that have been out there on the golf course. And they tell me that this field — and this is just an observation, that this field is not really ready for Oakmont. I say “the field” and I’m generalizing. I think probably what they were telling me is that they haven’t really learned yet how to play Oakmont. And they may do that in the next couple days.
But this golf course takes a lot of thought, and someone who really gives it that thought would have a chance. Whatever you say, and I can be corrected in almost anything I say because I didn’t win here, but I came close a couple times. If you stay below the hole, generally if you’re below the hole or uphill at the hole, you have a pretty good shot. And if you can do that for 72 holes, I would give the guy that can do that, hit the fairways and stay below the hole most of the time the best chance to win this tournament.
The rough is pretty substantial, but it’s always been substantial. Maybe not quite as much as this year, but it will be a factor, as it always is. The length, again, it’s relative to where they hit the ball or how hard they hit the ball, and it goes back to whether it was 1935 or ’62 or ’73 or ’94 or whatever. Keeping the ball in play, staying below the hole is kind of the secret to playing Oakmont.
RAND JERRIS: I want to ask you if you could share some thoughts with us about a project that’s important to me and I hope important to you as well, which is the Arnold Palmer Center For Golf History which we’re building in Far Hills, and it will be open about a year from now.
ARNOLD PALMER: I think some of you know, maybe you don’t know that the U.S. Open has started construction on the Arnold Palmer Museum For Golf History and Memorabilia. It will be opening in June of ’08?
RAND JERRIS: Yes, sir.
ARNOLD PALMER: And something I’m extremely proud of and certainly something to me is going to add a great deal to the knowledge of the people that play the game and hopefully they’ll have an opportunity to go see what is being built.
I’m just extremely flattered and proud that they are doing this in my name, and, you know, when I was playing at Oakmont back when I was a young man and they said U.S. Open I went and hid because I didn’t want to — I was scared to death. (Laughter.)
And, of course, you know better than that today, what the organization has gone done and what it’s continuing to do and what it will be doing in the future. That is lending itself to the betterment of the game of golf.
Q. What was your reaction to the trimming of all the trees on this golf course?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well –
Q. And when did you find out it was being done?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I kind of had some inklings when they started talking about it, because I am a member and I know some people that are members here and some that have something to do with what happens to this golf course.
As back in the days when I first came here there wasn’t a tree on this golf course, zero. And I know you didn’t know that. But I was 12 years old, and it was 1941, and it was beautiful. The first time I played it, I loved it. And it was something that I had never experienced before with no trees. It was truly an inland, links golf course and it played like one.
Of course, the one thing that has happened here and to the best of my knowledge — and maybe Bob Ford or someone that’s been here a while can tell me, could tell us, but the greens and the surface of the greens on this golf course have never changed.
The greens and the surfaces have not changed since this golf course was built. I think that’s a very significant factor. They’re push-up greens. I have worked on remodeling this golf course twice and they said “Arnie, you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t touch the greens.” And that’s just about the way it’s done every time and I think everybody can be proud of that fact.
But the golf course is much the way it is or was when I was 12 years old and played it. In the years — ensuing years I think Fred Brand, one of my real good buddies, had a great deal to do with planting a lot of the trees. And the suggestion that they plant the trees and over the years they grew up to become a significant part of the golf course. But as the playability of the golf course ensued, it didn’t affected the playability that much. I think there were probably a few trees that came into play and some of the longer shots might have been affected by the trees.
But overall, I think Oakmont pretty much played as it always has, even when the trees got real big. Frankly, I like to see it the way it is right now.
I think the golf course is very much an inland links course and one I think offers a different slope to the Pittsburgh area and to the golfing community here.
Q. Arnie, you won a Western Pennsylvania Amateur here at Oakmont. But you had some heart-breaking moments at Oakmont. Did you have to think twice about coming back, or are your ties too strong to stay away?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, you just said it, my ties are what they are. This is one of the proudest days of my life is when I came here at 12 years old and played golf. I enjoyed it then, and I’ve enjoyed it through the years.
And winning the West Penn here when I did, I played about three or four of the top amateurs in the club when that happened, guys like Jack Brand, Jack Mahaffey, a guy by the name of — not Bob Thompson, who am I thinking about, from South Hills — Jack Benson.
I played a lot of people and I was very pleased. And that goes back to — we played stymies. How many of you remember what a stymie is? Not many of you probably, but we played stymies here and that was an interesting situation, too. But I was very pleased to have won the West Penn here and playing with my friends.
Q. Based on the need to keep the ball below the hole, this week is distance control with the irons; is distance control with the irons perhaps a more essential skill than accuracy off the tee; and do you have any recollection of when you and Jack battled here, how good your distance control was in that Open Championship?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, in ’62 I assume you’re referring to, I played pretty good here. When you think about it, I 3-putted about 11 times.
ARNOLD PALMER: How many? 13?
Q. 13 times.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, and I played pretty good. And, of course, I remember, as always, if I got above the hole on a lot of situations, you were in trouble. Just, you know, you can start right off on No. 2 and get above the hole, if the pin is on the right front or the right center or the center of the green and you get past it, it’s going to be — the fringe might stop it. But it may roll right up into the second cut against the rough, and that’s going to be a big play this week.
I think — and it’s history. If you go back and you read about Sam Parks in ’35 when he came out and spent a lot of time out here practicing and just had a tremendous advantage by knowing the golf course and knowing how to putt the greens and knowing where to put the ball.
There are holes that you can say, well, how do you — 10, if you get to the left of the pin you’re in much better position than you are if you are to the right and if you’re to the right, chipping from the right side or putting down that slope the ball is going to keep going. Same thing at 1. Actually you’re better to be a little long there than you are short, and so on through the entire golf course. Am I answering your question?
Q. Is it more important to have distance control than driver accuracy on a course like this?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, distance control, I’m not sure how to answer distance control. If you can hit the ball where you want to hit it, and that’s distance control, then you will know — if you know the golf course, where to hit the ball to have it controlled and have it stop where you want it to stop.
I just had a conversation with Andy North and one of the things that he said to me is a lot of this field — and I open with that, “are not familiar with how to play the golf course,” and knowing how to play this golf course is so vitally important, where to hit the shot to get the ball to end up where you want it to end up, and it’s going to roll. The one thing that happened — and this is sort of another note on the same thing, on Saturday in ’73, the golf course was dry and fairly firm.
On Sunday it rained overnight and the golf course changed dramatically, because when Johnny played in the morning he found out real quick that he could carry the ball on almost every hole and stop it. And you saw what happened, he shot 63 and that could happen. That could happen under any conditions, but if it stays firm and it’s reasonably dry, then that isn’t going to be the case.
So, again, knowing where to hit it under the conditions that you have to play.
Q. One of the story lines this week is how Phil Mickelson will perform after what he went through last year. You had up and down’s in your career; you’ve been compared to Phil. What would you say was the closest thing compared to what he went through last year, and how did you manage to get beyond that and perform well in the majors again?
ARNOLD PALMER: You’re talking about Phil Mickelson’s last hole, virtually. Because he played pretty well for most of the tournament at Winged Foot. I can’t tell you how Phil’s going to react. I’ve talked to him, the other night for some time, and he seemed pretty confident that he was hitting the ball well, and I would say that he’ll brush last year away and go into this tournament with the thought of winning, much as he did last year.
I don’t know how serious his wrist is and how much that will affect. He seemed to think that he was past that problem, but not absolutely sure. So you never know about that, if he’s got a twitch or a problem, that could affect how he plays. But I don’t think that what happened last year at Winged Foot is nearly as serious as how well he played at the Tournament Players Championship. I think any insecurity that he had was wiped away by his play at Ponte Vedra.
Q. Did you go through anything similar like that in your experiences?
ARNOLD PALMER: No, I never lost a tournament in my life. (Laughter.)
Q. How were you able to move on –
ARNOLD PALMER: You weren’t around at Olympic or a few other places or Augusta?
Q. I’m interested in how you were able to put it behind you and move on.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, one thing that I’ve always tried to keep in my mind when I was playing and living through the disasters that I had, and I had plenty of them, was that my father once said to me when I had a little problem with my game and wasn’t doing very well, he said, “Arnie, just remember one thing. It’s a game, play it like a game. ” And if I always remembered that — I tried to do that.
If you’re going to suffer over disasters, heck, I wouldn’t be here today, I would be gone, because I’ve had so many of them that I can’t count them. I look at my Open record and you can see a few of them there.
Q. Can you go back to age 12 and tell us, you know, how did you come to play Oakmont that day and how did it treat you?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I had the president of Latrobe Country Club just happened to be a member at Oakmont his name was Harry Saxman and he was president of the steel company at Latrobe. And I used to play a little golf with him when he felt benevolent, and he said “Arnie, how would you like to go play Oakmont?”
And all I heard in that day was how great Oakmont was and how much everybody enjoyed playing and this was 1941. And I couldn’t talk. I said “You’re going to take me to Oakmont?”
And he said “yeah” and it was one of the greatest thrills of my life. My father and I came here and we played, and it was particularly one of the great thrills of my life.
Q. Did it eat your lunch?
ARNOLD PALMER: Did I eat my lunch?
Q. Did it eat your lunch.
ARNOLD PALMER: I think I was 12, I shot 78. (Laughter.) Heck, I don’t know what I shot. (Laughter.)
Q. Arnie would you please talk about your connection with the fans and particularly the fans in western Pennsylvania and the rousing ovations that you received at the 1994 U.S. Open here at Oakmont?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, you know so many things happened over the years here, in ’62 you know what happened.
And in ’94 just coming back I suppose that if I — I was here through the graciousness of the United States Golf Association and I really wanted to play. But if I would have really thought about it, I probably wouldn’t have played. I wasn’t playing that well at the time, but it was a sentimental journey and for that, it was fun.
It was fun for me because I saw people that I hadn’t seen from the time I started playing professional golf. A lot of the people that were friends of mine, my opponents here in Pittsburgh, people that I played at all the clubs in this area, so that aspect of it was fantastic.
The tough part was coming up 18 and the experience that I had and what affect it had on me, it was overwhelming, as you know, and I have dealt with the press for all my years and I had a pretty good relationship, but not anything like happened in the press room.
Q. Mr. Palmer, could you tell me about — describe your feelings when you saw Johnny Miller’s run on the leaderboard and then briefly tell me a little bit about that –
ARNOLD PALMER: Thank you for that. I was playing with Boros on the last round of the –
Q. John Schlee.
ARNOLD PALMER: John Schlee, that’s right. I was very aware of what I was doing, and thought until I got up on the 11th green that I was in pretty good shape to — if I could finish to win the tournament. I had about a 5- or 6-footer going straight across from right-to-left, and I felt good.
I felt like things were going my way, and I waited a little bit and I walked around and I walked up to the back of the green and I saw the crowd looking at the scoreboard on the back of the 11th green, and I looked down at the scoreboard. And there was no reason to be concerned.
The people kind of moved away, and I looked again and at the very bottom Johnny Miller had just posted 63. Well at that point in time if I make the putt that I had at 11, I would have been tied with him if I would have made pars the rest of the way in. I missed the putt, walked to the 12th tee and hit what I thought was a really good drive.
And we talk about position on this golf course and getting the ball into the right spot is one of the most important things you can do here. And I hit the drive down the left side and it was right on the border of the rough and the fairway. Well, of course, I felt pretty good about it, because it usually — unless something really unusual happens it kicks right and the ball bounces down into the fairway, and the ball bounced in the rough and they could have stuck a fork in me because I was cooked.
And I didn’t play good from then on, I think I bogeyed 12 and maybe 13, and it was all over for me. But up until that point I thought I had a pretty good shop at winning the Open.
Next thing — sorry. This gets into an area that I would probably not talk about, but when — as you know, we live in Latrobe and my wife was on the board of Saint Vincent College, and when she did something in those days, she wanted to do it and do it right, and one day we heard that there was going to be a big development come in that was going to block Saint Vincent and the cathedral and the whole thing. And she said “Arnie, you can’t let that happen” and I said “let what?”
And she said, “They’re going to build a lot of buildings right in the valley there in front of the church and the school.” And she said “Do something so they can’t do that.”
Well, that was not as easy as it sounded. I investigated and it happened that a friend of ours owned the land that we were talking about, and had made some sort of commitment to sell that land to a development, so I did everything I could and we talked to the people, and it took us a long time, three, four, maybe six months before we got to where we wanted to be. And the people, being friends, listened to our story and finally I was able to buy the land that we were — that was blocking or going to be right in front of the school and the church.
And I bought it, and then I said now what am I going to do with it. And she said “Well, we’ll just beautify it and keep it real nice.” Well, of course, she passed away not too long after that. And then we decided that my children and I decided that it would be nice to build a park there, something that would be — keep her memory and that’s how this all came about.
It will be opened privately the end of June, and then it will be open to the public about a month or two after that. And it will be a public facility for education, for parks and recreation and we’re very proud of it.
Q. I don’t mean to get you in Dutch with the fellas at Augusta, but is this the best golf course in America? I know it might be the hardest judging by the fact, the last time you said you played you didn’t get all the holes. Sorry to bring that up again.
ARNOLD PALMER: You asked numerous questions with one, but they could make this golf course today or tomorrow as hard as any golf course in America, if that’s what you were looking for. I don’t always consider a golf course that is hard a great golf course. I think that Oakmont just happens to have that characteristic of being a great golf course and a very hard golf course, and they could — I don’t think this golf course is going to be probably even close to as hard as they could make it. It won’t be, because then it wouldn’t be much fun and it wouldn’t be as entertaining of a golf tournament as we want to see.
Certainly it is in its class and in its purpose one of the — if not the best one of the best golf courses in America, yes. But we have a lot of golf courses that are at that stature. We have others like, you know, we can go to the Open golf courses, and Oakmont is different than a lot. That puts it in another class, too.
But you go to Winged Foot or Olympic Club or Medinah or just about any of the Open golf courses, old line of courses, Philadelphia, Merion, all of them are really fine courses and there are golf courses that can be made extremely difficult for an Open Championship and that’s kind of what it’s all about. And certainly Oakmont is one of the finest, there is no question about it.
Q. Question about Father’s Day and the fact that for so many of us Father’s Day is defined for us by the U.S. Open, and we’ve asked players to talk about the players and their relationship with their children, and at this point would you reflect on your relationship with your children and perhaps your father?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, Father’s Day to the Open just hits me pretty heavy because my father taught me everything I know, and there were no boundaries. He was tough, he was for giving, but not so forgiving that he let you do whatever you wanted to do.
I was very fortunate to have the type of father I had, because it was one thing to play the game, and it was another to play it right and to play it with integrity and honesty and he let me know that. He also let me know that once I said this earlier, it’s a game and play it like a game. And that includes when you’re a professional.
When I thought about that and he said you’re going to go play professional golf, don’t forget, it’s a game. Play it like a game with all the integrity that you have in your body, and win. But don’t think it’s just going to happen, you have to make it happen.
Q. Arnie, a two-part question. I wondered if you could provide some perspective on how you’ve seen the U.S. Open evolve in course setup over the years; and, two, if every tournament was set up like the Open, would the players revolt?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, you know, U.S. Open are a special group of people, and I just wish that I could have everyone in this room and everyone in the United States understand what they are trying to do and have pretty successfully done over a long period of years. And they continue to work to improve the game and to make it a game that is what it is, meaning it’s an honest game, you know, we don’t have games very often that we call penalties on ours, and I know that you hear that all the time. Everybody hears it, but how important is it?
It’s very, very important that people that play the game understand what the game is all about. It’s being a gentleman and it’s playing it like a gentleman. That doesn’t mean you can’t fight and play as hard as you can and hit the shots that you need to hit to win golf tournaments; it means it remains a gentleman’s game and that is vitally important.
The other thing about the U.S. Open and what we are striving to do is to continue to make people understand what the game is all about. And the fact that the people who are running the U.S. Open are people who make all these things happen that we’re talking about are volunteers — they’re not paid. All the executives, you see all of the executives and I read in the newspapers every day about how much money these executives make at their jobs, whatever company they work for, but Walter driver doesn’t get paid. He’s spending two years of his life working to improve the game of golf and to have people understand the game of golf for not, other than the fact that he enjoys the game and he wants to do something for the game that will make the game better for those of us who have played it and enjoy it and revere it as much as we do. Okay?
Q. I was speaking for –
ARNOLD PALMER: I’m not hitting your answer?
Q. Not really. I was addressing the idea of the Open setup, the course setup and how that’s evolved over the years.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, setting up the golf course is only to make it challenging. There is not — I don’t think there is one individual out there that is going to be favored in this Open Championship unless he can play. He is favored because he’s better, or whatever he is. But there’s 150 –
RAND JERRIS: 156.
ARNOLD PALMER: 156 players. They didn’t pick anybody out and say: We’re going to set this golf course up for you. It’s the same for everybody that tees off. You could say that Tiger Woods is the favorite long; hey, I’m not going to disagree with you but he still has to play the golf course. He has to do it the same as Joe Porridge who has never been here. He has the same opportunity as Tiger Woods. And all he has to do is hit that ball in the right place, put it in the right place and then putt it in the hole and they don’t hear what his name is.
But setting it up, I think sometimes they don’t set it up as tough as they should, and I’m serious about that. When I was playing I felt even stronger about that. And I’ve heard some players say today to me, “the golf course is tough. I wish they would have made it just a little tougher.”
Well, that’s a matter of opinion. You have your opinion as a writer and the players have their opinion as players, but the golf course — and I believe this, truly: I think they try to do the absolute best job they can for the conditions, the players, the gallery and the entire press world, all of you. They want to do something as interesting, exciting — that is interesting and exciting and that will make it a great sport, which it is. It’s something that there is no similarity to, it’s one in its own.
Q. You talked about how much of this field might not be ready for Oakmont. Along those lines, as a young man how long did it take you to develop a sound and consistent routine in preparing for and playing a U.S. Open or any other major?
ARNOLD PALMER: You’re talking about coming here to play the Open like now?
Q. How you saw it.
ARNOLD PALMER: Some golf courses you can play — there are golf courses that I’ve played over the years that I could play a practice round or two and feel pretty comfortable that I knew how to play it. In this case, Oakmont just doesn’t happen to be that kind of golf course. It’s the kind of golf course that I’ve played, well, since I was 12 years old. And I’m not even sure now that I know every shot that I should hit if I could hit it.
But I know where to place the ball to get the best advantage; and that is if I think I’m going to miss a shot or if I think I can’t play the shot that I have to play on this golf course, then I know where to play the shot that if I hit it the way I want it and get it into the position that I want, it might not be as good as the one that I was thinking about when I wanted to hit it right at the pin; but it will be in a position where the next shot is going to be a lot easier.
And this golf course particularly is one that if you haven’t played it and played it enough to understand it, which I just said I’m not sure I understand it totally in all these years, but if you haven’t, then your chances aren’t very good. You’re not going to just come here in a day or two and play this golf course under the conditions that you’re going to be playing under and eat this golf course alive. If you do, two things are going to be happening. You’re going to be playing good and lucky as hell.
Q. What do you and the Queen talk about at dinner?
ARNOLD PALMER: I’m sorry?
Q. What did you and the Queen talk about at dinner?
ARNOLD PALMER: Oh, her golf. (Laughter.) Actually we talked about a couple of golf courses in Scotland that I have played and we remarked about the — well, I remarked about how I thought that the links courses in England and Scotland were very fun to play. And she liked that.
And she liked the fact that I had won the Open in England actually at Birkdale and at Troon and that was about it. I think she enjoyed her evening.
RAND JERRIS: Mr. Palmer, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.
ARNOLD PALMER: Thank you.