It was autumn when Davis Love III last ran into Arnold Palmer. “ When I saw him, Arnold asked me, ‘You’re going to be at Bay Hill, right?’” Love recalled. “Well, I said I wouldn’t miss it for anything, and you know, I wouldn’t.”
Love is a three-time runner-up of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, so he’s naturally eager to add that title to his 20 career PGA Tour victories. But beating an elite invitational field on a tough golf course isn’t his only motivation for wanting to return to the Bay Hill Club & Lodge for the 31st edition of Palmer’s prestigious event in Orlando, Florida. Neither is playing for a handsome $6 million purse.
“I love the tournament, and I’ve enjoyed the golf course, though I haven’t quite gotten over the hump, but one of the best things about playing at Bay Hill is the time you get to spend with Arnold,” Love said. “You don’t get to do that very much. It’s in honor of him that you want to be there. That’s what was great about playing for him on the Presidents Cup when he was the captain (in 1996) – it’s that the time you get with him that really means something. You don’t forget it.”
Love’s outlook on the long-running PGA Tour event hosted by one of the game’s most beloved figures is shared by many of his peers. When the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard is held March 23-29, many of the 120 players in the elite invitational field will use the trip to renew acquaintances with golf’s recognized “King.”
“We all know about his success on the golf course but it’s what he’s done for the game, and his tournament is a visible example of that,” said Tim Herron, who won the 1999 edition at Bay Hill. “There’s an aura about him that makes him the man, someone who is a great example for golfers and nongolfers. You conduct yourself like Arnold Palmer, and you aren’t going to go wrong. Being around him for that reason is worth the trip.”
“It’s always great to play there, and the course has gotten harder, so it’s even more of an accomplishment to win there, I think,” Paul Goydos, the 1996 champion, added. “But when you go there, it’s still about being there with Arnold. He treats the pros great; the pros are what matter at Bay Hill. It goes back to who he is. It’s all about the professionals there, and you have to come ready to play because you know that’s what he would do.”
There certainly appears to be no shortage of players who have shaped their decisions by thinking about what Arnold Palmer would do. Two-time winner Loren Roberts is among them, and he believes that all golfers would benefit from some informal lessons from the King.
“I’ve always thought that it’s kind of like our young guys who come out of Q-School or the Nationwide Tour or wherever … rookies ought to have to play a couple of rounds of golf with Arnold Palmer, just to see how he treats everyone on the golf course, how he treats the fans, how he conducts himself,” Roberts said. “It should be a prerequisite to play with Arnold and learn a few things.”
Some PGA Tour members who live in Orlando find that one of the perks of a central Florida residency is a greater opportunity to visit with Palmer away from the stress and bustle of tournament week.
“I saw him at a charity event at home in Orlando for the Winnie Palmer and Arnold Palmer Hospitals in December, and he looks great, and he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down at all,” two-time Tour winner Charles Howell III said. “He’s just unbelievable how he interacts with people. I always get a kick out of seeing him, especially in settings like that where you really see what he’s about, which is, basically, that he’s the same no matter the situation. He’s just a phenomenal person.”
“Personally, I love hanging out at Bay Hill, just to be around Arnie. What a lovely man,” Daniel Chopra, another two-time winner, said. “The first time I met him, it was like he was so much larger than life. It was like meeting John Wayne. It has nothing to do with records and such. It’s who he is. He is approachable, and he makes everyone around him feel good. Just a regular guy, and that is his charm.”
According to Goydos, there’s one additional legitimate reason to journey to Bay Hill in late March. “What do we play for that week? (The purse is $6 million.) That’s not even close to what Arnold Palmer has done for us and for the game,” Goydos said. “More than anything, you just want to go there and play well and then be able to say thanks. Really, you can’t thank him enough.”
For tickets to the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard or for more information, log on to the tournament website, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com or call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407- 876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Proceeds from the tournament benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.