The following story is true, no names have been changed to protect anybody.
I was nearing the end of my first year of teaching and coaching high school football and forensics at my alma mater when my brother’s friend convinced me to try my hand at sports writing. Why not…I love sports and believed I could write a word or two. That was the easy part. I didn’t mind ending my teaching career. In point of fact I had to get out of teaching, mind you I loved teaching but realized stomach troubles…I needed to eat three times a day. Surviving on less than $6,500 for a family of three was going to be a stretch. So I took the job and made less money but that is a story for another post.
The editor called me and asked if I could write a piece before my actual start date. Agreeing before being told the assignment was a act of faith. He assigned me to go to a local country club and interview Arnold Palmer. Let me repeat that; interview Arnold Palmer, the King of golf, the Masters champ, owner of green jackets, a Claret Jug and more trophies than one could count. This 23 year old school teacher who had never written a newspaper article in his life was coming face to face with his hero.
Upon arrival I was ushered to a room in the club with five well know writers and a TV personality. One, Marino Parencenzo would eventually be enshrined in the Golf Hall of Fame, writers wing. Then the King walked in, shorter than I had envisioned but strong looking and well tanned…he demanded attention. I was drooling. The press conference was orderly and all of a sudden it was realized that I was the only one to have not asked a question yet. All eyes fell on me when Arnie nodded that it was my turn. I could not speak…several tries generated not a sound. “Is this your first time” the King said; shaking my head in agreement he said, “I’ll be gentle.” Apparently he did answer a question or two but by that time I was a puddle. The article appeared in the Monday edition as it needed the steady hand of the editor and I fear the whole staff to make it printable.
Upon leaving we were each given an autographed copy of the days program, yielding to the ceremony that writers don’t ask for autographs…we want them but can’t ask. That program and the cut sheet of the article rested in a box in my homes for 45 years. It was the most thrilling day of my young life; a day never to be forgotten.
Then one day in 2012 I was invited by a friend to play at Arnie’s course Latrobe Country Club and to meet him in his office before we teed off. Program in hand I bravely sauntered into the King’s castle. His office and museum is an amazing tribute to his life. There is a club room with 3,000 clubs in bins, and my guess would be understated. There is an airplane room with models of each of the planes he has owned and piloted in his storied aviation career. Replica trophies of all the majors he had won were positioned majestically in another room. He turned 80 that year but he looked ready to fight 18 more holes that day. He graciously posed for pictures and I showed him the program from 1972. Thumbing the pages he softly said “This is amazing.” Yea right, that was a pretty awesome day I thought to myself. “I don’t remember this at all.”
The most thrilling day of my life and he didn’t even remember it happening.
He may not remember but I will never forget. He has given me a story I have told countless times, a handshake that could crush a few of my fingers and a treasure trove of pictures of the day that hang in my office. We must be prepared to face the day when the living legend passes on and it will be a national day of mourning for this country and the world, but mostly for me…and he was gentle.
…I just think about this stuff!