Monday, June 10, 2013

So what's Arnold Palmer really like?

(734 words)
The most frequently asked question of myself isn’t “How do you get by without a job?” or “Are you ever going to pay me back that twenty bucks you owe me?”

And if you’re playing at home, the answer  to the second question is directly related to the answer to the first.

No, my No. 1 FAQ is: “What’s Arnold Palmer really like?”

It’s a question everyone who lives in Latrobe, as I do, gets from people around the world.

I get it more than most because many people are aware I’ve conducted more than 50 interviews with him for various golf publications, the majority of them hour-long Q & As for his ultra-posh lifestyle magazine, “Kingdom.”

And Palmer agreed to provide the gushy cover endorsement for “Use All The Crayons!” so people have a right to expect me to have some expertise on the subject.

The question in recent months has become so common I’ve crafted two handy answers.

"What’s Arnold Palmer really like? Arnold Palmer is perfectly cool, authentic and refreshing. If he were a drink he’d be an Arnold Palmer.”

What’s he like?

“If Arnold Palmer were the only member of The Greatest Generation it would still be The Greatest Generation solely because it included Arnold Palmer.”

He’s often referred to as a legendary golfer. But describing Palmer as a legendary golfer is like describing Nelson Mandela as a successful parolee.

It doesn’t begin to do justice to the momentous legacy.

He’s an enthusiastic philanthropist bestowing countless millions on dozens of hospitals, scholarships and charitable organizations. He owns famous resort golf courses, car dealerships, golf equipment companies, golf apparel companies -- he even owns The Golf Channel. And he’s the hip drink impresario behind the international sensation that is Arnold Palmer Teas. 

The illustrious resume often leads to a secondary FAQ: People want to know how much Palmer’s worth.

One internet website that tracks celebrity wealth pegs the number at $675 million.

If that’s the case, then that makes him worth, oh, about $674,999,980 more than me.

I spend a lot of time trying to brainstorm ways to narrow the gap.

And this week I think I’ve seized on one.

I’m going to look into auctioning off a chance to accompany me the next time I interview Palmer.

I figure the bidding should start at about $5,000.

I believe many well-heeled members of Arnie’s Army would shell out big bucks to meet Palmer and observe our banter.

I’m often given a series of questions geared to topics destined to be featured in the upcoming issue of “Kingdom.” So there are questions about golf history, dinners with The Queen, planes he’s flown around the globe, and his recollections about some of the world’s most lavish resorts 

But the conversation is freewheeling enough I always slip in questions about things that have nothing to do with what’s scripted. Things like if he believes there will be golf in heaven (he does), if he owns blue jeans (yes, for days when he feels like riding a horse), and if he’ll ever appear on “Dancing With The Stars” (“No, as a dancer, I’m a pretty good golfer”).

We talk about Pirate baseball, the hazards of playing golf with your dog, and how things are at The Pond (he’s told me his daughters were raised on Pond pizza). 

At some point in each and every interview, something in my mind clicks and I think, “Wow, I’m sitting here just shooting the breeze with one of the world’s most beloved men.”

Kirk Douglas said about him in 1970 that no one he’d ever met -- not Sinatra, John Wayne or Ronald Reagan -- has more charisma than Palmer.

At the end of every interview, he stands up, shakes my hand and says something so warm it blows me away.

I’ve learned to leave my recorder running clear until I get into the car. One of these days I’m going to compile all the compliments in a tape loop. The intro will say, “This is Arnold Palmer talking about me,” followed by two minutes of Palmer saying things like, “Chris, you’re the best;” “Always great seeing you, Chris,” etc.

Yes, one of these days that will be my phone greeting.

On second thought, maybe auctioning off the Palmer interview isn’t that great of an idea.

Seeking further enrichment from such a privileged situation would be greedy.

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