We were young sports fans and participants on the Minnesota prairie in the 1950s. We knew of golf only from items in the daily newspapers that reached our porch: the Minneapolis Morning Tribune, the Minneapolis Star and the Worthington Daily Globe.
There was a country club in Worthington, but you pretty much had to be the town banker in Fulda to own a set of clubs and to play there. Slayton opened a nine-hole municipal course in 1957, which seemed kind of foolish, since hardly anyone you knew played golf in farm country.
The amount of golf exposure on television was minimal. Then again, television was minimal — one station out of Sioux Falls, KELO, that you could bring in with a tall antenna.
The first golf I remember watching was the 1958 Masters. I was 12 and this was four years after the first World Series that I recall watching — the New York Giants’ unexpected sweep of the Cleveland Indians.
That’s offered as a timeline as to where golf was in our consciousness in southwest Minnesota.
It was in that 1958 Masters that golf became of interest to me, and to my sports-loving friends. The winner was Arnold Palmer, and there was something different about this 28-year-old from Latrobe, Pa.
On the small black-and-white screen, this young man didn’t have the same look as most of the competitors. The rivals looked like businessmen, like the people we imagined playing at the Worthington Country Club. Palmer looked like he might come from the Slayton Muni.
We didn’t know anything about golf swings, but the violent yank he took with the club didn’t look normal. And that face — there was no stoicism in that face. There was hope when a shot was in the air, and anguish when it went awry, a shrug when it was so-so, and a triumphant hitch of the pants when it was precise.
Arnold Palmer made me a golf fan when he won the first of his four biennial Masters titles.
I spent three hours late Sunday afternoon watching the Tour Championship, and was rewarded with a great finish involving Rory McIlroy and Ryan Moore. Soon thereafter, I learned that Palmer had died at 87.
There’s a connection there: I had found delight in watching golf’s drama on Sunday, and the first athlete to make me aware that delight could be found in golf drama had died in a hospital in Pittsburgh.
We will be part of golf’s drama here in Minnesota as strongly as ever this week, when the Ryder Cup matches are held Friday through Sunday at Hazeltine National.
The practice rounds start Tuesday, and there won’t be a competitor, or someone in a ceremonial role, who will not be asked to remember Arnie. And everyone — American or Euro — will talk of Palmer’s importance to the game at which they now play for hundreds of millions.
How important? I ran across a quote from Nick Faldo offering this high praise to Seve Ballesteros: “He was our Arnie Palmer in building the European Tour.”
He’s been “Arnie” for over a half-century. Mention Arnie in the sports world and you need no other identifier.
There was a crafty fellow behind that Everyman style. He started modern sports marketing by joining with lawyer Mark McCormack to form what became International Management Group.
IMG became a goliath, and also a source that Hollis Cavner used on Sunday night as an example of what friendship meant to Palmer.
Cavner was working as an underling in the golf business more than 30 years ago. “I had a chance to meet Arnold,” Cavner said. “He became a mentor to me and a number of other young guys who were trying to figure out a way to make a living in the golf business.”
Cavner was in operations for the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine. The crowds and merchandise sales were so massive that Minnesotans got ideas to host a tournament.
Hollis became the tournament director for the senior event that started at Bunker Hills in 1993. It is now the 3M Championship at TPC Twin Cities, and a staple of Cavner’s golf company, Pro Links Sports.
“We were having some success and adding tournaments,” Cavner said. “IMG felt like we were taking business away from it and was trying to get rid of us. Arnie called IMG and said, ‘Stop it. Leave the kid alone.’ ”
The Kid and The King became close friends. Arnie showed up regularly for the 3M Championship. They talked on the phone frequently, but not since Thursday, when Palmer went into the hospital with an ongoing heart problem.
“Arnold loved the byplay that’s part of golf and friendship,” Cavner said. “We used to have lunch at the Masters, under those umbrellas in front of the clubhouse. The fans stand out there behind that short fence, hoping to get an autograph or maybe a wave.
“One of the first times I was with him, there were a huge number of fans and I said, ‘I better watch the way I eat, with all these people at the fence.’
“Arnold smiled and said: ‘Trust me, Hollis, they aren’t looking at you.’ ”
Cavner laughed through his tears on Sunday night and said: “He was right about that.”