In Appreciation of Arnold Palmer

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While scanning golf blog headlines today, I came across the news that it was Arnold Palmer’s birthday on Tuesday. He turned 84.

Being a Generation X’r, Arnie’s competitive achievements came before my time, but I’m very aware of his accomplishments and his enormous impact. As a golfer, I’ve most personally felt Palmer’s continuing influence on the game by playing his courses, including Aviara, the only Palmer-designed course in San Diego County.

I most consistently experience Palmer, however, through two TV spots he’s done, one being his voiceover for the “Swing Your Swing” Dick’s Sports Goods Commercial that first appeared this year. The other is the iconic “This is SportsCenter” commercial he filmed in 2009 that still appears regularly, with good reason. I think it’s the best one that has ever been done.

One clip makes me laugh and the other inspires me immensely. As a writer, I’m incredibly creatively envious and inspired by both.

If you’re not familiar with either, let’s do a little recap, starting with the ESPN piece.

The clip is part of a series the network has done for decades that hilariously spoofs life at ESPN by pretending the entire sports world takes up residence in its Bristol, Conn., headquarters, which in a way it kind of does.

The commercial shows Palmer and his caddie walking through ESPN’s cafeteria being trailed by two tray-carrying SportsCenter anchors, Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt. In awe, the two men watch as Palmer prepares his namesake beverage, the Arnold Palmer.

Palmer mixes a little iced tea and a little lemonade and finishes it off with a little more tea before exiting the cafeteria with his club-carrying caddy in tow.

Watching Palmer walk away, Van Pelt utters, in a hushed voice, “That was awesome.”

Scott whispers back, “I know.”

The beauty is in the simplicity. Palmer simply has to be Palmer, and he’s brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Check it out.

I have a friend who works at ESPN who posted the day of Palmer’s visit that an alternate clip was filmed. The film crew asked Palmer to chip a golf ball into an Arnold Palmer, and he did it – in one take.

That’s quite a hole-in-one, but he certainly aced the cafeteria scene as well.

“Swing Your Swing” evokes very different emotions in me and impresses me on a whole other scale.

If you haven’t seen it, again, let’s recap. As a montage of golfers swinging scrolls – including one of a cook in a kitchen – Palmer does a voiceover that basically pays homage to golfers everywhere. The script he reads comes across as a heartfelt appreciation for everyone who has ever picked up a golf club, so much so that you quickly forget it’s a commercial.

I remember the first time I ever saw this commercial on the Golf Channel and it stopped me in my tracks. I hit rewind about 10 times to take it all in. If you’ve never taken a moment to appreciate the words, here’s the script.

Swing Your swing…

Not some idea of a swing.

Not a swing you saw on TV.

Not that swing you wish you had.

NO … swing Your swing.

Capable of greatness.

Prized only by you

Perfect in its imperfection.

Swing your swing …

I know … I did.

 

         As the last line is delivered, a clip plays of Palmer swinging in his prime … swing-from-the-heels approach, held-off finish and all. Classic Arnie. And a true original. Check it out.

To me the script is pure poetry and speaks to everyone who’s ever dared to pick up a club and experienced the frustrations of trying to learn this crazy game – and forges ahead regardless.

As one of the many who used to have one of those self-made swings, and, to some degree, probably still does, I relate. As a golfer and writer, “perfect in its imperfection” brings it home for me in the commercial. Eventually, aren’t they all? As Roy McAvoy said in Tin Cup, when it comes to the golf swing, “perfect (is) unattainable.”

But if you’re really a golfer, that never stops you from trying.

So swing your swing, and while you’re at have an Arnold Palmer and toast the man’s continuing contributions to this great game. Happy birthday, Mr. Palmer.

Speaking of Golf and Animals …

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Since we’re on the topic, this happens to be my favorite photo of all time of animals on a golf course. It was taken at Quarry Oaks in Ashland, Neb., which used to be a destination course for my good golf friends and I when I lived in the area. Deer and turkeys are found in abundance here, and this shot perfectly captures, to me, the Quarry Oaks experience. I imagine I’ll be writing more about this place in a future post.

California Golf’s Wild Kingdom: Eagles, Birdies & Sandwich-Stealing Squirrels … Oh My

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On one of my visits to California before moving here, I played Penmar By the Sea, a quaint, wooded nine-hole muni course in Venice.

The thing I remember most about that round is standing on the tee box at the third hole and hearing one of our playing partners emerge from a porta-potty swearing and screaming like a lunatic.

His anger was directed at a squirrel that had climbed atop his golf bag. After the squirrel had been chased off, I learned about the notorious reputation of the Penmar squirrels for golf bag vandalism.

It turns out that, over the years, the squirrels have come to associate golf bag pockets with food and will slash a golf bag to ribbons in seconds in the hopes of scoring, say, a granola bar.

Having previously only played golf mainly in the Midwest, I was totally unaccustomed to such animal antics on the golf course. The closest I’d ever come to such drama was once being chased by a hormonal Canadian goose. Animal interaction in the Midwest is mostly the desired type, such as catching a deer crossing the fairway or spying a wild turkey in the brush.

Since moving to Southern California a year ago, I’ve come to fully realize what scavengers the critters of California’s golf courses truly are. Annoying? Yes. I’m sure that’s the view many native Californians have of such animal hijinks, and I agree. But at the same time, I also still find it a bit amusing and a steady source of good humorous golf anecdotes, such as:

As I often do, I walked on at Arrowood one day and joined a group making the turn. While on the 12th tee box, one of my new playing partners cast a glance of the roof of nearby house and said, “There’s that crow,” before adding a bit bitterly, “and there’s my PowerBar.”

Turns out the crow had snatched the snack from his cart on the first tee – and was now following him in the hopes of scoring more.
Some animals scavenge, while others seemingly make a living by staking out a hole.

Shortly after I moved out, I played the Navy Course in Seal Beach a few times. Each time, a squirrel – I’m assuming the same squirrel – absconded with something from the group.

The most memorable was when I was on the green and noticed my playing partner’s son gesturing in an agitated fashion toward his cart. The squirrel had possession of his gluten-free sandwich, and the kid was understandably upset.

By the time the boy reached the cart, the squirrel was long gone – or so we thought. When we reached the next tee box, I looked back and there was the squirrel, sitting behind a tree eating the sandwich. Remarkably, he had skillfully taken it out of the bag.

On that same hole, I once returned to my cart to experience a squirrel whoosing between my legs.

Some animals adopt a gentler approach. While playing San Juan Hills, my group had two quacking ducks follow us from one tee box to the next, seemingly begging for chips.

Out here, I’m sure these stories can go on for days and I’ve hardly seen the wildest California has to offer. Or maybe these are the least of the problems when you play courses that routinely have signs posted warning of rattlesnakes and mountain lions.

Speaking of signs, I saw one in Portland once that may be along the lines of what Penmar, and undoubtedly a few other area courses, needs. It read: “Mad Squirrel: Protect Your Nuts.”

Or your golf bag. Or your potato chips. Or sandwich. Or PowerBar.

Anyway, newcomers to California golf, consider yourself warned.