CHASKA, Minn. – Arnold Palmer will be everywhere this week. He will be in the team room, and behind the gallery ropes. He will on the No. 1 tee Friday morning, and at the trophy presentation Sunday night. It’ll still be the Ryder Cup, named after a seed salesman, but Palmer will be the presence that no one will fail to feel. Doesn’t matter which side.
Be it U.S. captain Davis Love III: “I’ve got to rewrite a speech, because I’ve got to change the tone and add Arnold in there, obviously.”
Or European captain Darren Clarke: “Obviously with the passing of the King, it puts a slightly different perspective on the whole thing now.”
Whether it come from a player on the home team. “The game of golf is grieving. We as fans are grieving. We as people that knew him well are grieving,” American Brandt Snedeker said Wednesday.
Or the visiting team. “I’m sure that he’ll be out there looking down, probably talking to Seve a little bit,” Spain’s Sergio Garcia said.
The golf masses are gathering at Hazeltine. On a gray and chilly Wednesday, there were grown men wearing Viking hats, serenading the morning arrivals. And there’ll be many more like them by the weekend, here to pledge allegiance to one side of the Atlantic or the other. But won’t they all, in a way, also be here for one last march of Arnie’s Army?
It seemed that way Wednesday down by the Ryder Cup merchandise tent, which is large enough to have its own zip code. On the side of the tent is a huge board dedicated to Palmer, with pens available for fans to write their feelings.
There were hundreds upon hundreds of names and messages, written out in blue and black and green and gold. People were still lining up to sign, and when the only space left was near the top of the board, they hopped on one another’s shoulders to find a spot to scrawl.
“I want to be like you.”
“Thanks for playing with no fear.”
“I love you.”
“You changed lemonade, King.”
You get the feeling this week, the players wouldn’t mind signing that, too. Imagine, say, Jordan Spieth hopping on Phil Mickelson’s shoulders.
“We owe everything we have in the game of golf, at least a little bit of it, to Arnold Palmer," Spieth said.
The Ryder Cup never wants for stories, or emotion, but Palmer’s passing has raised the bar this week on both.
One minute it’s Snedeker. “I got home Sunday night and pulled out probably 15 letters Arnie had written to me throughout the years. I was a no-name guy when he started writing me letters and I realize he has done that for countless number of people.”
The next, it’s Spieth, remembering when he first met Palmer, who happened to be standing at the time with a guy named Jack Nicklaus. “I was actually more nervous there than I was on the first tee hitting my first shot at the Masters.”
It’s been the week to relive just how Palmer thrived in the Ryder Cup -- same as everywhere else. The 22-8-2 record. The 12 consecutive matches without a defeat, a record that stood alone until own Lee Westwood matched it in 2008. The starring role on the most dominant team the Ryder Cup has ever seen; the 1967 juggernaut that won 23.5-8.5. Palmer went 5-0.
Yeah, he’s everywhere. But how, or if, it will impact what actually happens on the course this week, time is going to have to tell.
“I think we are all trying to figure out how to best honor him and his legacy,” Matt Kuchar was saying.
Maybe a win-one-for-the-King booster shot for the Yanks? Love is the determined captain and Mickelson the emotional heart and soul of the U.S. team, the wise Ryder Cup Yoda at 46. Still, it can’t hurt drawing some inspiration from the memory of a man who is so respected that many of the sport’s biggest stars still call him Mr. Palmer. How often do you hear that in 2016?
“It will always be in the front of our minds, the back of our minds,” Love said.
But then again, Palmer was a global giant. It is as if the Gipper meant something to both Notre Dame, and Army.
“We also feel every sad and we miss him very much,” said Garcia, who wasn’t even born when Palmer played in his last Ryder Cup. “So I don’t know. I don’t know how it will affect the teams. If the U.S. will push a bit more, or we will or – that will happen as the week goes on.”
And this from Justin Rose, “I hope he inspires this Ryder Cup to be all about teamwork, fair play, good camaraderie amongst both teams good fun, camaraderie amongst all the fans, because that’s what Arnie stood for.”
One thing we know for sure. They’re going to run out of space pretty soon on the message board by the merchandise tent. The suddenly revived Arnie’s Army signs from the heart, and then heads out to watch the event he once owned, and the game he once gave wing.