PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) Graeme McDowell had a week to remember when he played Bay Hill for the first time in 2005. He tied for second, picked up enough world ranking points to qualify for his first Masters and finally had a chance to meet Arnold Palmer.
McDowell could not have imagined where that would lead.
He was selected along with Curtis Strange, Peter Jacobsen, Annika Sorenstam and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to serve as hosts of the Arnold Palmer Invitational next month, the first one without The King.
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”It’s an honor to be part of this,” McDowell said. ”We’ll be taking some of Arnie’s responsibilities for the week and representing him, which is impossible to do. How are you supposed to do that? It’s impossible to fill those shoes. It’s a massive void.”
Palmer, one of the most important figures in golf history, died in September.
The hosts will take on some of the traditional roles Palmer had during the week, whether that’s greeting players and guests, hosting pro-am parties and presenting the trophy on Sunday. There also are plans for a ceremony on Wednesday, March 15, on the driving range to honor Palmer.
McDowell is different from the hosts in one respect – he’s still playing. He said Palmer’s daughter, Amy Saunders, told him he could pass because of the busy week he would face as a player. That didn’t bother McDowell, the 37-year-old from Northern Ireland who won the U.S. Open in 2010.
”This is probably more of my home event than the Irish Open these days,” McDowell said.
He has made his home at Lake Nona for a dozen years. His wife, Kristen, is an Orlando native and their two children were born at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. McDowell also has a restaurant called ”Nona Blue.”
”If I could have one-hundredth, just a fraction, of the impact in Orlando that he had, I’d be proud of myself,” McDowell said. ”That’s why I want to be part of it. `Representing’ is the wrong expression. It’s honoring him and taking the tournament forward.”
One of the ideas McDowell suggested during a December meeting involved the colorful umbrella, which was Palmer’s logo. His idea was to make a template of the umbrella to send to clothing companies so they would have the option of stitching it into a player’s apparel for the week.
PADRAIG’S DILEMMA: Padraig Harrington has a trapped nerve in his neck that has caused numbness in his right hand and atrophy in his right triceps. He said he has lost about 5 mph in club speed, causing him to lose power.
The question is what to do about it, especially with a return to Royal Birkdale this year for the British Open.
Harrington said surgery is one option, and it’s still under consideration. For now, he has taken cortisone shots to see if that will help. He will get another opinion when he returns home to Ireland next week, but his window is closing.
Harrington won his second straight Open at Royal Birkdale in 2008, followed by the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. He is exempt in only those two majors, and Harrington is building his year around them.
To have surgery would require 12 weeks off, and he would want at least two weeks to prepare for Birkdale.
”So if I go and have it done, pretty much immediately, I’d be ready to go back playing sometime in mid-June. So I’d be in good time for the Open,” he said. ”The only issue I have is if I delay surgery, think I’m getting better, and then I end up having to have surgery in May … that would be a disaster to miss out on Birkdale and miss out on the PGA during the summer.”
MEXICO BOUND: Brett Rumford winning the World Super 6 in Perth was not enough to earn a spot in the World Golf Championship event in Mexico. He moved up only to No. 11 in the Race to Dubai, and the top 10 from the European Tour list qualify for Mexico. Pablo Larrazabal is 10th, just under $40,000 ahead of Rumford. Also getting in off the Race to Dubai were Tommy Fleetwood, Fabrizio Zanotti, David Lipsky and Sam Brazel.
The top 10 in the FedEx Cup after the Honda Classic also qualify. Canadian rookie Mackenzie Hughes, Charles Howell III and Hudson Swafford are at Nos. 8-9-10. Rod Pampling is 50 FedEx Cup points behind Swafford.
Meanwhile, Roberto Diaz earned a spot as the highest-ranked Mexican. He was runner-up on the Web.com Tour two weeks ago, and kept his spot when Abraham Ancer’s rally last week in Panama came up short.
SCOTT’S FAMILY: Adam Scott is the best at pleasantly keeping secrets about his family. For example, he got married after the 2014 Masters and no one found out about it – not even wedding guests let a word slip – until a few weeks later at The Players Championship.
Later that year at the HSBC Champions, he jokingly was asked, ”Since we didn’t know for a month that you were married, do you have any children?”
Scott smiled and replied, ”Don’t know of any.”
His daughter, Bo, was born three months later.
He was playfully asked again at Riviera if another one was on the way and if he would ever give a straight answer. Scott laughed and then broke the news that their second child is due in August. That means Scott likely will skip the first FedEx Cup playoff event.
MARATHON MAN: If not for the six-week break in the PGA Tour wraparound season, Brian Stuard would have no break at all.
The Honda Classic will be his 11th straight tournament, and his eighth week in a row dating to Kapalua at the start of the year. At No. 152 in the world, and No. 99 in the FedEx Cup, Stuard will not be eligible for the World Golf Championship in Mexico City next week.
Asked if he was looking forward to it, Stuard said, ”Yeah, I think so.”
This isn’t a case of a player grinding to find something in his game, or desperate to pick up money or points. Stuard, who won the Zurich Classic last year, was eligible for the Tournament of Champions for the first time. After that, he simply couldn’t find a week he wanted to miss.
Plus, he likes playing.
”I always thought the more I played, the more I got into a rhythm, and I think that’s true,” Stuard said.
DIVOTS: Adam Scott said he is leaning toward skipping the Dell Match Play next month, mainly because of the crammed schedule. Scott is playing the next two weeks, and he plans to play the Shell Houston Open a week before the Masters. … Peter Jacobsen has been selected to receive the Charles Bartlett Award from the Golf Writers Association of America for unselfish contribution to the betterment of society. … Dustin Johnson was the only player at Riviera to average over 300 yards off the tee in the Genesis Open. According to the PGA Tour, he is only the fifth player to average 300 yards at Riviera since ShotLink became available. … Daniel Berger discovered one problem with being home for a PGA Tour event. He was headed to the Honda Classic on Tuesday when halfway there, he realized he was wearing shorts, as he always does at home. He was only five minutes into his drive and made a quick U-turn to change into pants.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Charles Howell III has finished in the top 15 in all four of his PGA Tour starts this year – T8 at the Sony Open, T12 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, T2 at Torrey Pines and T15 at Riviera. He has finished a combined 30 shots out of the lead.
FINAL WORD: ”If only I had a penny for every time somebody says to me on a wet day: `You must really love it. You come from Ireland.’ There’s a reason why I play golf in the States and not Ireland. It’s the weather I leave.” – Padraig Harrington.