Arnold Palmer is hosting the 50th anniversary of the Bob Hope Classic. Here’s the transcript from Palmer, the five-time Bob Hope Classic champion, who’s always generous with his time. Here’s the transcript from this morning’s call:
An interview with ARNOLD PALMER:
TOBY ZWIKEL: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for being with us today for our Bob Hope Classic conference call with Arnold Palmer. Again, we’re privileged this morning to have with us from his office at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida, our 2009 tournament host, Arnold Palmer, for the 50th Annual Bob Hope Classic, January 19-25. It will be known as the Bob Hope Classic Hosted by Arnold Palmer.
Of course, I’m sure most of you know that Arnold was a fivetime champion of the tournament, winning first in 1960, then again in 1962, ’68, ’71 and ’73.
Arnold, as we usually do on these calls, I’m going to open up with a few question, then we’ll open it up to the media for their questions.
First of all, can I ask your feelings about being host for the 50th Bob Hope Classic?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I’m very excited about it and certainly looking forward to being in the desert and hosting the Bob Hope Classic.
I feel like I’ve been going there for so long and been a part of golf in the desert for so long that I look forward to hosting the Hope and, of course, the fact that I’ve enjoyed the desert so much over the years.
TOBY ZWIKEL: If you would, please, talk a little bit about what the tournament, the Bob Hope Classic, has meant to the TOUR, especially the early growth of the TOUR in the 1960s and ’70s.
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, the first tournament in the desert was the Thunderbird. I participated in that from ’56 onward. I had a pretty long streak of playing golf in the tournaments with the Thunderbird and the Classic and the Bob Hope.
I just thoroughly enjoyed playing golf in the desert. I thought it was probably one of the most ideal places in the world to play.
Of course, in the early days, I must say the crowds were very limited, but as the Classic went on, it became a huge success. That even made it better. Of course, the fact that through the years the amateurs throughout the United States came and supported the golf tournament, and the fact that the charities in the desert have enjoyed very much the success of the Desert Classic and the fact that Bob Hope was just one of these people that made everybody feel pretty comfortable. His contribution to golf in the desert, as well as golf in the world, and, of course, his dedication to the PGA TOUR, his contributions to the game through the PGA TOUR, the fact that he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. Of course, currently he has an exhibit going there. I just think that his contributions have been so great, and the fact that the Bob Hope Desert Classic has been so great.
To have the privilege of being the host for the ’09 Classic is something that I look forward to very much.
TOBY ZWIKEL: Any particular things stand out in your mind regarding Mr. Hope, any experiences you had with him during the years you played in the tournament, especially in those five years when you won?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, I think the fact that Bob has always been so great and so gracious. Winning the tournament, having him there, was always fun for me. I had the opportunity to do a lot of things with Bob Hope, from playing golf, to movies, all the things I thoroughly enjoyed doing with him. Seeing him shoot some scores that would amaze some people on the golf course, meaning he played awfully well.
I think probably one of the big things of his life and his career was the fact that he tied just about everything he did to his golf. Of course, he brought his family into that also.
TOBY ZWIKEL: I know we’re talking a few years ago here, more than you and I would like to admit, but can you talk a little bit and recall for us as best you can winning the inaugural tournament in 1960?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, that was a total switch in golf in the desert. It went from the Thunderbird to the Classic. It was a big switch. Of course, there was some concern about whether it would be successful.
But all the people in the desert, particularly the committee that was responsible for the Classic, the people that worked to make it succeed, were very gracious and devoted a lot of their time and efforts to the tournament.
Of course, it was skinny in the first few years, meaning there weren’t a lot of people out there and there wasn’t a lot of things happening. The amateurs that came and played helped make the tournament successful even in those early days. That continued to grow as the years passed. Certainly with Bob Hope’s contribution to the game and to that tournament, we had the opportunity to really have a very successful event.
TOBY ZWIKEL: One last question from me. Of your 62 PGA TOUR titles, ironically the last one came at the Hope in 1973. As best you can, can you talk about your memories of winning that tournament?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, that was a pretty special event, one that I guess I will always enjoy, the fact that I won. I was playing with my good friend Jack Nicklaus on that particular occasion.
You never know that it was your last, and hopefully it wasn’t, but it turned out that way. To have it be the Bob Hope Desert Classic certainly isn’t a bad situation. When I won it, we had a great time, I must say. It was a lot of fun. It really is something that I will remember for a long time.
TOBY ZWIKEL: Thanks, Arnold. At this point we can open it up to the media for questions.
Q. You talk about the success you had in this tournament, winning five times. You intimate that maybe it was more than just the golf courses that you enjoyed out here. What was it about the desert that turned your competitive juices on?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, certainly I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the galleries. They were fantastic. They gave me just so much support over the years that I guess that was a motivation for me to go and win.
But all the things there. The golf courses I think was one of the prime attractions, the conditions of the golf courses. The people that I played with, they were fantastic. I don’t think that I ever played a tournament in the desert where there wasn’t absolutely pristine conditions to play under. The tournament itself, the condition of the golf courses, and the committees and the people were very, very supportive of the tournament. And, of course, the players, I appreciated that.
Q. You finished second here twice, in addition to the five wins. Did you expect to come here and not necessarily contend but maybe win every time you played here?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I thought I could because of all of the things that I have mentioned. The golf courses, the conditions were just superb. That motivated me to go on and win. I always felt like if I didn’t win, there was something wrong with me and I had to straighten it out. And the fact that I enjoyed it so much, I think that had something to do with it. The gangs, the people that came out and supported me, of course, a lot of those people are still friends of mine today. I communicate with them, talk to them, and from time to time see a lot of them.
Of course, one of the words that I get from them all the time is: Why don’t you come and play? Well, of course, obviously if they saw me play, they’d know why I’m not playing any more.
Q. Which young PGA TOUR players out there impress you and have caught your eye right now? Is there anyone out there right now who sort of reminds you of yourself back in the day?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I don’t know about that. It’s very difficult to say who or what. These young boys, there’s so many of them that are so good, with a guy like Tiger sort of being the top man right now. I expect he’ll be back again this year to resume where he left off.
You know, Padraig Harrington is one of the outstanding young players. Sergio Garcia. Gee, Vijay Singh at 45 or 46 years old, he’s playing very well. There’s just so many guys that have potential, really good players, it’s difficult to say.
I have a guy that I’m watching very closely, like Adam Scott, Trevor Immelman, and Anthony Kim, who is really coming on. I expect to see him do some pretty good golfing here in the next couple years.
The standards with which they play and the way they play is astonishing to me. To just say there’s a guy there that is going to do it. I’ve watched Daniel Chopra, who has won a couple events and certainly looks outstanding to me as an upcoming golfer. I suppose I’d look for a little more from Steve Stricker also, who has certainly some real potential.
I could go on and on for a long time, but I hope that answers your question.
Q. You mentioned Tiger, of course, being on top. What effect do you think his absence from at least the first part of this year has on the rest of the players? Is it an opportunity for them to jump out and maybe win a couple more tournaments? Does it put more pressure on them? What kind of effect do you think that has?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, of course, first of all, Tiger, I see him occasionally here, and he is working very hard. How it will affect his golf, laying off as long as he has, is difficult to say. But I certainly expect that he will come on very strong and be the great player that he has been in the past. I don’t think there’s much question about that.
How will it affect the other people? I don’t know. I know if I were there playing and competing, I would certainly put forth a greater effort to be a top player. If you’re going to be a top player, you’ve got to somewhere along the way fess up to Tiger and play him and do something about it. I think that is very important.
Of course, we see a lot of these guys that are so good, I expect that some of them are going to challenge him. I think that would be good for the game.
Q. Who did you consider, when you were playing on the PGA TOUR, your biggest rival and why? Also, if you could talk about one or two memorable highlights from your golf career.
ARNOLD PALMER: Of course, I was very fortunate I had the opportunity that I had to play the PGA TOUR. The challenge was always there. There were always good players or great players there to challenge anyone that played. The fact that I won the U.S. Amateur, which gave me the entry to start playing the TOUR right away, that was a privilege that I certainly appreciated. The challenges never stopped. Winning golf tournaments was my one major ambition.
In those days, the early days that you’re talking about, the major championships that were at stake didn’t faze me as much as maybe some people. I primarily directed myself at winning golf tournaments. The fact that I had the good fortune to win some of the majors was only a part of what my goals were playing as a professional in the game of golf.
I could think of a lot of things that happened along the way. I remember going to Palm Springs the first time in 1955 when I had just turned pro and watching the Thunderbird from the highway. I wasn’t invited to play. That was 1955. Looking back now, seeing what has happened in the desert since that year, I guess I might be a little remiss in mentioning this, but in ’55 there were three golf courses in the desert: Thunderbird, O’Donald and Tamarisk. It was pretty interesting.
Now looking at it and seeing the things that have happened like with the Bob Hope, the tournament courses, the opportunities that I’ve had to work in the desert, build golf courses there, has just really been a great part of my life, something that I will go on and remember as long as I live.
Q. Was there one particular golfer that you thought you had the biggest rivalry with or were there two or three of them?
ARNOLD PALMER: It depends on what era you’re talking about. When I came out early, I was playing against guys like Hogan, Snead, and Middlecoff. As time went on, those people turned into people like Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus. And they were all competitive. Lloyd Mangrum, I can remember playing a lot of golf with him, the fact that he was a great player. How can you overlook guys like Middlecoff or Snead or Hogan? Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to play against Nelson, although he was a friend and someone that I have great respect for.
But as the years go on, the more and more the players just keep coming on. Certainly, as I say, Jack Nicklaus was one of my good friends, but certainly one that was extremely competitive and one that I took with great regard when I was going to play with him.
Q. You mentioned appreciating the role amateurs have had in the Classic over the years. What was it like playing with amateurs in a tournament this serious? What is your role going to be this year during the week of the tournament?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I think one of the things, talking about the amateurs, the fact that they have supported the golf tournament so much over the years, it was always a thrill for me. Certainly a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had in my career have come from meeting those amateurs and playing golf with them and in a lot of cases becoming very close friends with the amateurs that supported the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
I think it’s an unusual event. I suppose that right today we couldn’t thank those people enough for the support that they’ve given us over the years. I look forward to being there this year and to talking to some of them. Some of them I played with over the years in the tournament. To see that all happening again, I just hope that the support that they have given will continue for many years to come.
Q. I don’t imagine you will be throwing late parties, but what are you going to be doing this week of the Hope?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I’m not a late party guy (laughter). I might have been at one time, but I’m very early to bed.
My participation is going to be in supporting the tournament, appearing at some of the dinners, thanking the people, telling them how much I have enjoyed the desert, and hoping that they are. Greeting them, letting them know that, as a professional golfer, we certainly appreciate what they’ve done.
I think that all the charities in the desert appreciate the Bob Hope Desert Classic for their contributions to the various charities. It’s a huge thing in the desert and it should continue. That will be my job, to sort of let them know that all the people out there are most appreciative of the fact that they have supported the Bob Hope Classic for so many years.
Q. The economic downturn, what effects do you think it will have on courses at the local level?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, I was hoping that wouldn’t come up (laughter).
Actually, we’re probably suffering a little to the economic situation in golf. Hopefully it will not be a longlasting situation, and we will make a quick comeback with the economy improving.
Certainly, as I think all of you know, a great many of the sponsors on the TOUR are financial institutions. We are feeling right now that we are certainly going to be affected. But it has not – and I repeat, has not – affected the TOUR that much.
In referring to the PGA TOUR, I think the PGA TOUR itself feels pretty confident that the sponsorships and the things that we have enjoyed over the last years will continue.
Certainly there’s going to be some downturns. You can’t avoid that. But, on the other hand, I feel, and I think that the TOUR officials feel, that there will continue to be people who are willing to sponsor events and who are enjoying the fact that they have sponsored them over the years, and they have received some reward for their sponsorships on the TOUR.
TOBY ZWIKEL: Arnold, we want to thank you very much, as always, for taking time out of your schedule to be with us today. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing you in the desert in a couple of weeks.
Also, as a note, the D.J. Trahan call has been postponed until next Tuesday, January 13, at 9 a.m. Pacific time. We will be sending out an alert on that as we go forward.
Arnold, thank you again. A healthy and happy new year to you and your family. We look forward to seeing you in the desert.
ARNOLD PALMER: Thank you. To all of the media who have been so supportive of me through the years, I can’t thank you enough. I will look forward to seeing you in the desert, certainly being able to talk to you. I certainly hope I have an opportunity to do that in the near future. Again, thank you. I’ll see you at the Bob Hope Desert Classic.