Call him 'King'
MY husband, John, and I met at the University of Colorado in Denver where we took up golf and played more out of boredom than passion in our young age. After graduation in 1975, we moved back to Minnesota, John's home state, and continued to pursue and perfect our love for the game.
In 1978, when the U.S. Open Championship was being played at Cherry Hills in Denver, a former college fraternity/sorority couple invited us to "come back" to our alma mater and witness the "big leagues". It would be the first professional tournament of many to come.
I had never been to a professional golf tournament, and the excitement and action had my head in a twirl. Our hostess had a connection to Dow Finsterwald, head professional at the Broadmore Hotel in Colorado Springs, and an accomplished tour player himself. Asking if we'd like an introduction, we eagerly followed her to the practice green where Dow was getting ready to play a practice round with none other than Arnold Palmer.
As our hostess was making the introductions to Mr. Finsterwald, Arnold wandered over and introduced himself to John and I. Enamoured with his charm, we followed him full 18 holes and every day for the rest of the tournament. Each morning he would greet us by name, chat for a minute or two, and by the end of the tournament, we felt we had been privileged beyond comprehension. We were hooked!
The next year we journeyed to Toledo, Ohio, and the 79th U.S. Open at the magnificent Inverness Club. A year had passed, and John and I were certain that Mr. Palmer would have forgotten us in the crowds of faces that greet him wherever he goes. But upon seeing us at the tee, Arnie came over and planted a kiss on my cheek and a hearty handshake to John. We couldn't believe he remembered us!
It was a gruelling beginning, and Arnold had just bogeyed the long Par 3 sixth hole. Down and dejected as he made his way to the seventh tee, Arnold made eye contact with no one. Slowly, tentatively, my husband and I started to clap as he approached the seventh tee.
The crowd burst into applause, and startled, Arnold walked straight toward me. He grabbed my hand and closed my fist, leaving his ball marked "1 Palmer 1" in my hand.
My husband and I have continued our journey to the U.S Open year after year. We were at Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1994 when Arnie made his last trip up a U.S. Open fairway.
Diagnosed with cancer a few years later, Arnold fought and won his battle with his typical courage, positive attitude and determination. "I get the feeling people say, `Well you've had cancer,' that it's all over. Hell, it's not all over. I have no intentions of lying down and stopping. I'm going to do something," he announced to the world. This last year as I put the finishing touches on my newest book Cancer Has Its Privileges: Stories of Hope & Laughter, I asked Mr. Palmer if he would write the introduction to my book. He gladly agreed, and I smile and laugh to myself when I think back to our chance meeting over 20 years ago. For you see, we're both survivors after all.
Arnold's ball sits in a special case in our family room, a constant reminder of the spirit he instilled in tow young golfers who have grown to love the game. And now I know why, as the years will pass, Arnold Palmer will be remembered simply as "The King".
CHRISTINE K. CLIFFORD
The writer is founder/CEO/president of The Cancer Club and author of Not Now ... I'm Having A No Hair Day and Our Family Has Cancer, Too! Web address: www.cancerclub.com E-mail: Christine@cancerclub.com
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