'Arnie's Army' Gets Last Look at Legend

By MICHAEL A. LUTZ
The Associated Press
Friday, October 13, 2006; 9:45 PM

SPRING, Texas -- Arnold Palmer quit keeping score after four holes in a Champions Tour event Friday, then tearfully said it was time for him to stop playing competitive golf.

"I've been doing this for a long time and, first of all, to stand out there and not be able to make something happen is very traumatic in my mind," Palmer said. "The people, they all want to see a good shot, and you know it and you can't give them that good shot. That's when it's time."

The 77-year-old Palmer was making only his second appearance on the 50-and-older circuit this year. He hit two balls into the water on the fourth hole, then said he was withdrawing because of a sore lower back. Even so, he finished the round with Lee Trevino and John Mahaffey, entertaining the gallery following him at the Administaff Small Business Classic.

Palmer, who won four Masters among his seven major championships and was responsible for golf's first big boost in popularity, said he would play in some charity events, "but now there are no more thoughts of tournament golf." He has played in the Father-Son Challenge with his grandson the last couple of years.

Trevino sensed the end of an era and asked Palmer to sign his ball and a glove when they finished the round.

"When he putted out I grabbed the ball and I had the Sharpie in my back pocket and then while he had the Sharpie, I said, 'Sign that glove, too,'" Trevino said. "We didn't take his shoes."

Palmer's eyes welled with tears as he went through interviews following the round with a large delegation of "Arnie's Army" huddled around him at Augusta Pines Golf Course.

"I made every move in the bag today to make a good shot and I wasn't very successful," Palmer said. "That's not surprising. It just didn't come today. It's been working its way into my repertoire. It's tough and it's emotional for me because it's my life."

Palmer played his final PGA Tour event at the 2004 Masters, a record 50th consecutive start at Augusta National. His first victory at the Masters in 1958 is where "Arnie's Army" was created, a time when television began to take an interest in golf and had the charismatic Palmer to bring the masses to the game.

Known universally in golf as "The King," Palmer joined the PGA Tour in 1955 and won the Canadian Open that year for his first professional victory. He won the last of his 62 PGA Tour titles in the 1973 Bob Hope Classic, and he last won a Champions Tour event in 1988 at the Crestar Classic. He's fourth on the PGA Tour victory list with 62, won 10 times on the 50-and-over tour _ including five majors _ and also won the 1954 U.S. Amateur.

Palmer did not play his first Champions Tour event this year until last month outside Baltimore. He continued to play the Administaff Small Business Classic because of a relationship with the company.

Trevino knew early in the round that Palmer was having trouble. Palmer was 8 over through four holes when he withdrew.

"After the third hole he was ready to throw it in," Trevino said. "I said, `I'll get a cart, you don't have to play.' He said `No I can't go. I can't leave, but please don't put a score down.'"

Palmer said he finished the round because he owed it to his fans, a trait that followed Palmer throughout his Hall of Fame career.

"My toenails were aching," Palmer said. "I took a bunch of pills and I made it and I feel fine now. I'm still aching. I'm glad I did the 18 holes. I sat down a couple of times and I wasn't sure I'd get back up."

Palmer said he would spend more time with his other business pursuits.

"It isn't that I'm not busy," Palmer said. "I've got a lot to do. I'm going to concentrate on building golf courses now and really spend a lot of time doing that. I've got quite a few on the books ready to go. That's going to be my next major passion."


© 2006 The Associated Press