DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliot.
It's April and the green grass and spring blossoms have Georgia on my mind. Augusta, Georgia, that is. It's Masters weekend, the first major golf tournament of the season. There's a tradition at the Masters. Golf greats have the ceremonial honor of teeing off the tournament - names like Sam Snead and Byron Nelson. This year, it was Arnold Palmer.
Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, now on the tee at Augusta National, where he belongs, to the thrill and delight of millions of his fans, four-time Masters champion, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Arnold Palmer.
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man #2: Arnold said he thought about doing it a couple of years ago, but when Billy Payne(ph), the new chairman, came to him and asked if he would consider, he knew the time was right. Right down the middle for the king.
ELLIOTT: Palmer retired from competition in 2004. He's now 77 years old and is in the business of designing golf courses. Arnold Palmer joins us on the line now from his home in Orlando. Thank you for being with us.
Mr. ARNOLD PALMER (Four Time Masters Tournament Champion): Well, thank you. It's nice talking to you.
ELLIOTT: What was it like for you on Thursday morning, walking out of the Augusta National Clubhouse? What was going through your mind as you and your wife Kit made your way to that first tee?
Mr. PALMER: Well, of course mostly memories of the years that I played at Augusta and all the things that happened over those years. I thought about Gene Sarazen and the first round that I played in the Masters in 1955. And having had the opportunity to play in 50 Masters and win it as I did, you know, I'm one of those sentimental people. And it was a lot of fun. It was very nice and very rewarding to have, you know, all those people somewhere in the area - 20,000, 30,000 people on a cool Thursday morning come out to watch you hit one tee shot.
ELLIOTT: Arnie's army is still in full force.
Mr. PALMER: Well, there were a lot of them there. Yes. For a lot of years, a lot of very pleasant memories.
ELLIOT: Is there a most memorable moment for you?
Mr. PALMER: Oh, I don't know that I could say that there was a single most memorable moment. One of the things that I do recall, however, was after I won in '58, Cliff Roberts came to me and said that the president of the United States - it was Dwight Eisenhower - would like to play golf with me on Monday morning. And that was a great thrill and certainly one of my fond memories.
ELLIOTT: How did he play?
Mr. PALMER: Well, he was, of course, he was a pretty busy guy at that first time, but he was a pretty keen golfer. He was a mid-80 shooter, occasionally high 70s, which was pretty good for a president of the United States.
ELLIOTT: Now, you practically grew up on a golf course. Your father was the teaching pro and greens keeper at a club in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. And when you first started winning majors - this was in the late 1950s - you were credited for broadening golf's appeal, that somehow once you came on the scene this was no longer a game just for the rich guys. What do you think it was? What was so different about your style of play and your demeanor that gave you that title?
Mr. PALMER: Well, I'm not sure that I can really tell you that except that, as my father said to me when I was getting into the game, he said, now just remember one thing, it is a game. Play it like a game and have fun doing it. And I tried to do that.
ELLIOTT: Did you realize at the time that you were changing the face of golf?
Mr. PALMER: Oh, I don't think so. I don't think that I ever gave that the thought that you might think I did. I was very aware that people were enjoying what I was doing. And of course I was enjoying the fact that they were rooting as hard as they were for me.
ELLIOTT: How often are you playing golf yourself these days?
Mr. PALMER: Well, I'm about through. I don't play very much anymore and the way I've played lately, my - the inclination for me to play is not as exciting as it once was.
ELLIOTT: Not even just for fun?
Mr. PALMER: Well, I still play for fun and I played it to be with the guys, but as far as competing, I've kind of given that away.
ELLIOTT: And I didn't ask but maybe I should, how was your tee off shot on Thursday morning?
Mr. PALMER: Well, it wasn't the greatest but it was fair. It was good enough for the job I was doing.
ELLIOTT: Arnold Palmer, the king of golf, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. PALMER: Well, thank you. Nice talking to you.
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