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Farewell To Our Friend

By: Jim Nugent – Global Golf Post

LATROBE, PENNSYLVANIA | When asked, and hopefully only when asked, I happily tell people that my life in golf has been blessed.

I have played Augusta National, Pebble Beach, the Old Course at St. Andrews and Royal County Down.

I shot under par on my home track once, and I have three aces – and counting, I hope.

For work purposes, I regularly attend the four majors and the Ryder Cup. Dirty work, as they say, but somebody has to do it.

I have played golf with hall of famers, broken bread with others, and shaken hands with still many others.

ap_20533976724But all of that combined does not add up to the honor of being in Saint Vincent Basilica last Tuesday to remember Arnold Palmer. I will cherish this memory more than any other I have in golf.

Think about this: What other living person from sport, from the arts, from politics or industry, who, by his dying, would compel thousands of people who never met him to drive across the country to watch the service on a large screen television outside the basilica? What other individual would cause people to get on a plane and fly across an ocean to be a part of the gathering?

If there is a list, it is very, very short.

Ahead of the service, I was hopeful that it would be celebratory. Charlie Mechem, Arnold’s great friend and a former LPGA commissioner, served as de facto host, and he encouraged the gathering to think and behave that way as well. To be sure, there were moments of laughter and levity. But when Jim Nantz and Jack Nicklaus are moved to tears, celebration just does not seem to be the order of the day. For those gathered in the basilica, for those watching from another campus site, and for those watching on television, the service was profoundly sad.

This was a service befitting a head of state. And right from the start, the “elite battalion of Arnie’s Army,” as Mechem referred to those in attendance, knew this service was going to be special. It opened with Fanfare for the Common Man, so appropriate for Arnold Palmer, and it closed with the Battle Hymn of the Republic. That, too, was appropriate for a man who played a lot of golf with presidents and generals. Quite clearly, meticulous planning went into this celebration of life.

The speakers all shared personal memories, what Nicklaus said that his wife, Barbara, called “the cushions of life.” They were moving, they were meaningful, and they were heartfelt. The speaker I likely will remember most was Arnie’s grandson, Sam Saunders. For about 10 minutes, emotions in check, he spoke brilliantly about his late grandfather, without referring to a single note. “Dumpy,” as Sam and his siblings and cousins lovingly called Arnie, would have been very proud.

The loudest laugh was provided by country music superstar Vince Gill, a longtime friend and golf pal of Palmer’s. During the service, there were many references to Arnie’s hearing, or lack thereof, in his later years. Gill wondered aloud, before playing You’ve Got A Friend on his guitar, how he could be Arnie’s favorite musician if Arnie couldn’t hear anything.

The night before the service, I found myself in a hotel bar, half watching a meaningless pro football game and half gathering my thoughts about Palmer. The game was frequently interrupted by political commercials, given the season in America. All were nasty, with one candidate tearing his or her opponent apart. I wonder what Palmer, one of the most decent men who ever walked the planet, thought about our uncivil political discourse. Actually, I didn’t have to wonder. I am quite sure he found it to be very disturbing.

I saw my friend Brad Brewer at the service. Brewer ran Palmer’s instruction business for many years, and he wrote a book about him, entitled Mentored by the King. They were very close, and I expressed to Brad my sorrow on the passing of his friend. “Our friend,” he corrected me, the collective we referring to the entire global golf community.

All of us at The Post were very proud to know Palmer was a weekly reader. I often thought of him as reader No. 1. But in this digital age, Palmer read The Post differently than most. An aide would print it out for him and place it on his desk to read each Monday morning. He didn’t read it on a computer or fancy device, but it didn’t matter. We knew that he read The Post every week, and that meant a lot to us.

We now live in a world that no longer includes him. I find that to be unfathomable.

Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.