Arnold Palmer has a date with swimsuit model Kate Upton.
Whereas a geeky teen who posted a YouTube video inviting her to the prom got only a maybe, Upton is scheduled to attend the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.
A week ago, Palmer, 83, sat in his office at Bay Hill Club & Lodge and held the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover aloft and told his friend Dow Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA champion, “Look who’s going to be here.”
Palmer’s face lit up. The King still has it.
It turns out Upton’s parents were long ago enlisted in Arnie’s Army, and the 20-year-old beauty grew up a fan. Palmer sat back in his chair and told how he once helped Upton’s agent, Lisa Benson, whose father was a regular golf buddy of Palmer’s, land a job with the firm IMG.
Upton and Palmer will have dinner, and she also will attend the tournament, visit the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, and discuss their plans to do a commercial together in support of Arnold Palmer “Tee,” his refreshing drink.
That’s when Finsterwald interjected and said, "No offense, Arnold, but I think she’s going to sell a lot more tea than you."
It’s a big week for Palmer, who is celebrating the 35th year hosting Orlando’s PGA Tour event that bears his name. There are interviews to give, autographs to sign and a hospital to support. At his annual press conference on the eve of the tournament, Palmer held court on a wide array of topics. He reiterated his opposition to the anchored putting stroke and the importance to maintaining one set of rules.
“I think one of the reasons that golf has progressed in the way that it has over the years is the fact that the amateurs and the pros all play the same game and play under the same set of rules,” he said. “It may be the key to the future success of the game of golf.”
Palmer said the Bay Hill course, which was hit by a morning squall, is in the best shape he can remember. The rough is thick, but not especially long.
“I haven’t heard any derogatory remarks, as yet, and that’s a surprise because usually someone will have something to say about the golf course,” he said.
Last year, Palmer was hospitalized during the final round because of high blood pressure, and didn’t get to shake hands with champion Tiger Woods. Palmer wouldn’t be surprised to be handing Woods the winner’s trophy for a record eighth time this Sunday and still gives Woods, winner of 14 major championships, a chance to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
“I suppose that every year it’s a little more fleeting, and he’ll have to really work hard to keep himself up and keep his mental attitude if he’s going to do it,” Palmer said.
No golfer has been showered with more cheers than Palmer, whose 62 PGA Tour victories include seven majors. When asked if he could recall the loudest cheer he’d ever heard, he paused to think.
“Well, geez,” he said. “It was probably on the 16th hole at Augusta.”
Palmer then recounted the time in 1962 when he was behind the green and former Masters champion Jimmy Demaret was describing the action.
“I could hear it,” Palmer said. “ ‘He’s got an impossible shot here, and to get it up-and-down will be a small miracle.’ And I’m listening to him saying all of this and then I chipped it in.”
All these years later, the cheers still reverberate wherever Palmer goes.