Arnold Palmer declared Bay Hill to be the best it has ever been in the 34-year history of the tournament. But he was disappointed not to have the best two players who are PGA Tour members.
Luke Donald, who returned to No. 1 in the world last week with his win at Innisbrook, isn’t playing.
Neither is Rory McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion who was No. 1.
”I’m disappointed that they are not here, no question about it,” Palmer said. ”They are the top players on tour right now in the positions that they are in. And I’m disappointed.”
McIlroy took off three weeks before the Masters last year, and it worked out well for him — at least for 63 holes. Donald has played Bay Hill only four times since his rookie season in 2002, and only once has he made the cut. Bay Hill is a course that tends to favor big hitters, and Donald is not considered one of them.
Palmer said McIlroy recently sent him a letter asking if they could meet — and telling him he would not be at Bay Hill.
”And of course, that made me feel great,” Palmer said sarcastically.
Palmer even suggested that Europeans owed him one. It was Palmer who helped restore the prestige to the British Open when he went over in 1960 and talked up the modern notion of the Grand Slam (winning all four professional majors). Most Americans didn’t travel to the Open in that era because of the high cost with little return. Palmer helped bring back the popularity.
”When I think back over the years, I went to the British Open to kind of enhance or to create additional interest in international golf,” he said. ”And to think that those people are now the top international players in the world, we like to have them here. We have a wonderful field, and we are very proud of our field, but to have a couple of the top players internationally and U.S. not here, I’m kind of sorry for that.”
He sounded as though he was willing to cut McIlroy some slack, and he said he was impressed with how the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland has handled himself in success and failure.
”I had a letter from him … about coming up and having a talk with me,” Palmer said. ”I’m not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me, but I look forward to seeing him and talking to him. And of course, as I said, I’m sorry that he isn’t here. But he also mentioned in the letter that he will be here to play in the years to come.”