Arnold Palmer joins special club with name adorning annual PGA TOUR event presented by MasterCard
In 2007 Arnold Palmer becomes the second player to have the distinction of a PGA TOUR event named in his honor, which is not only appropriate but also comes at a fortuitous time given that the first, Byron Nelson, whose name has been on the Dallas stop for 40 years, passed away late last year.
When the PGA TOUR's finest return to the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, they will be vying for the first title in what is now know as the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
Palmer agreed to become host of the event in 1979 and has nurtured it into a top-flight tournament. This year's event at Bay Hill offers a purse of $5.5 million and is scheduled for March 12-18, remaining anchored in its traditional dates as the PGA TOUR embarks this season on a new competitive format, the FedExCup, a points-based competition that will determine a season champion.
Though the announcement of the tournament name change occurred last March, Palmer, a seven-time major championship winner, in some ways still struggles to come to terms with such an emotional and humbling honor. "It's still hard to fathom in some ways, but it's something that was important to my family, and they made it happen, and I hope that it's a good thing for the tournament," Palmer, age 77, says. "I feel like the tournament isn't going to change much, really, except that we think it's going to be better than last year, which is always our goal."
PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem believes the name change will have a profound effect on the tournament.
"We are particularly excited about this development for the future of the tournament at Bay Hill," Finchem says. "Arnold, of course, is inextricably related to this championship. He created it. I think what's happened here with the development of the tournament under Arnold's tutelage is very special. It is part of the texture and the fabric of the PGA TOUR. Renaming the tournament the Arnold Palmer Invitational does a couple of things. It really identifies the tournament correctly, and it positions the tournament for the future. In both cases, these were steps that really strengthened these weeks on the PGA TOUR. This week now will be a stronger week and that's the objective."
Winner of 62 PGA TOUR titles and countless more hearts as one of the most popular and beloved figures in American sports, Palmer says he respectfully declined numerous requests over the years to have his name on various tournaments. "I resisted here as long as I was playing or participating on the TOUR full time," he adds. "I just didn't think it would be appropriate to have my name on a golf tournament. As a matter of fact, I kind of let it slide by without giving it a great deal of thought until my daughter, Amy, suggested that we do this. And since she has something to do with me, I listened. If it can be what I had hoped this tournament would be over the years, I'll be very happy for it."
Though Palmer would dearly love to tee it up himself in the first year of the renamed championship, he is content with acting as host and overseeing preparation of the golf course he has put his personal stamp on over the years. Palmer retired from competitive golf last year, though he remains committed to participating in select special events such as the Champions Skins Game in which he appeared last week in Wailea, Hawaii. He stopped playing in his own event in 2004.
"I dream of still being involved competitively, but that's just not going to happen," he says. "I want to enjoy my golf, and I can do that in other ways, and by the same token I look forward to enjoying the golf being played during the tournament. I think the state of the tournament is as good as ever and, hopefully, we will have another fine event this year that's well attended by the players and fans alike."
One of the premier stops on the PGA TOUR, the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard traditionally draws one of the strongest fields among golf tournaments from around the world. Australia's Rod Pampling is the defending champion, joining an esteemed list of past winners including Tiger Woods, who won a record four straight, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Fred Couples and the late Payne Stewart.
For tickets to the 2007 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com or call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.