Arnold Palmer on Competing No More Long ago, there was a golfer who drew huge adoring crowds and won tournaments with spectacular jaw-dropping shots. But he was more inconsistent than Tiger Woods and prone to mistakes that only endeared him more to his fans. His name was Arnold Palmer.
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Arnold Palmer on Competing No More

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Arnold Palmer on Competing No More

Arnold Palmer on Competing No More

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tiger Woods is seven strokes behind at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida this weekend. As usual, most attention is trained on the Tiger.

But as NPR's Tom Goldman tells us in this Reporter's Notebook, the tournament's legendary host also grabs the spotlight with some thoughts about mortality.

TOM GOLDMAN: It was supposed to be a light-hearted press conference. We showed up to ask Arnold Palmer about getting passed by Tiger Woods on the list of all-time PGA Tour victories. Palmer won 62; Woods recently won his 63rd.

Mr. ARNOLD PALMER (Retired Professional Golfer): You know, this may be a surprise to all of you. It's no surprise to me. I anticipated that he would pass that record, and I can't see him doing anything but continuing to pass other people's records in the future.

GOLDMAN: But there was more. The genial 78-year-old, who seems as happy as the bright pink golf shirt he wore that morning, went on to reveal the anguish, as he's called it, of not being the competitor he once was. Next month is the 50th anniversary of Palmer's first major championship, the 1958 Masters. A reporter asked Palmer if he'll note the milestone by playing at Augusta before the tournament starts. The answer was no.

Mr. PALMER: I don't want to embarrass myself or the people that I'm playing with in a practice round.

GOLDMAN: A startling statement for man nicknamed The King, a man who triggered golf's first explosion of popularity in the 20th century. In the 1950s and '60s, television was emerging, and it loved Arnold Palmer.

He was handsome, outgoing and a risk-taker on the golf course. He might have earned more titles with a more conservative approach, but then he probably wouldn't have had as many fans, the legions of followers called Arnie's army.

Golfers, unlike other professional athletes, have long careers. PGA Tour pros can be competitive into their 50s. So when it ends, perhaps it's more painful. Palmer's epiphany was at the 1994 U.S. Open.

Mr. PALMER: To know that I wasn't going to be a factor ever again, sometimes you just keep in your mind - you put that off. You don't want to recognize the fact that you're through.

GOLDMAN: Palmer spoke for an hour, and none of the reporters left, even though Woods was playing out on the course. Tiger could wait. After all, he's 32 with decades of competitive golf to come. Here's hoping he savors every swing.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman.

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