Arnie made Masters special

It was of those things I could never could figure out.

Why did the annual Masters Golf Tournament hold such a fascination for me?

It wasn’t because I had any particular interest in the sport. While I did my share of hacking around local courses, I never developed any golf skills to speak of — other than exploring every square inch of the layout.

Oh, there were occasional good shots. Maybe a 300-yard drive at Wyandotte GC. Or the time I nearly made a hole-in-one at Portage Lake GC.

But those efforts were immediately followed by a slice into the woods. Or a completely ugly shanked shot into the tulies.

Late Michigan Tech golf coach Verdie Cox once observed one of my tee shots and sagely commented.

“You’re swinging way too hard, padnuh,” he said. “You don’t need to swing that hard …. just meet the ball and follow through.”

I think I used the late and great Arnold Palmer greatly influence my golf game.

Palmer attacked courses like they were enemy bunkers in wartime. He swung wildly at times, but he made it work.

I remember watching him winning the Masters back in the early 1960s with such a strategy.

He would hitch up his trousers, light up another cigarette (you could smoke in public in those days) and attack the hole in front of him.

His popularity soared after he won the Masters a couple of times. His legions of fans became known as “Arnie’s Army” and they followed him with a blind loyalty.

I had the chance to meet Palmer at a Army function in 1970, and found him to be a friendly, outgoing person.

Not like the stuffed-shirt pro robots most often found on the course today. Phil Mickelson is a notable exception.

Tiger Woods gets all the attention nowadays. The TV cameras follow his every move, even before he arrives at the course.

He’s changed his persona in recent years, after his well-publicized divorce and skirt-chasing ways, which put him in a deep slump for a few years. But deep down, he’s still a jerk.

But when I tune in this week to watch the event from Augusta, Georgia, it won’t be to cheer for Tiger Woods.

I’ll be pulling for Phil Mickelson to somehow find his way to another green jacket.

It’s what Arnie would like to see ….


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