(Photo: Delores Knowles/Flickr)
The first time I saw the “King” in person was in the mid 1980s at the Tournament of Champions at La Costa in the San Diego area. They used to have the senior champions play the same week on the same course as the regular Tour winners.
It was great, like two tournaments in one. And it was a huge thrill to see Arnold in person. He had a way of making everyone in the gallery feel good about being a part of the event and his round.
(Whether in person or on TV, I've never detected any pretension in the man, which is one of the main reasons Arnold was and is so beloved. That, and the fact that he was one heck of a golf champion.)
Back to La Costa.
I also remember something about the course setup. They had the seniors hitting from forward tees. That is, the course played shorter for the seniors than the regular Tour players. Arnold didn't like this at all, and had some quotes in the local newspaper to the effect that he might don a skirt.
My next brush with Arnold wasn't so much an encounter with the golf legend as it was with his hometown of Latrobe, PA. (My wife reminded me of this the other night.)
We were on a cross-country trip when we passed through Latrobe and camped in nearby Keystone State Park. Just for kicks we checked the local phone book for Arnold's home phone number. (This was before cell phones.) There it was! We ripped the page out of the phone book.
No, I didn't call. Gutless.
What would I say? “Hey, Arnie. Want to meet me for a Rolling Rock?” (I mention Rolling Rock beer because it's also an original product of Latrobe.)
The last time I saw Arnold in person was at the 1995 GTE Northwest Classic, a Champions Tour event, in Seattle. It was not long after Arnold had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer. Arnold shot his age in the final round, a 66, and the news reverberated around the golf world.
It's been 12 years since I last saw Arnold. I would like to see him again.
So Arnold, if you ever do want to meet and crack open a Rolling Rock, let me know. I'm only 665 miles from Orlando and 364 miles from Latrobe.
The Armchair Golfer