Arnold Palmer took more than his share of mulligans yesterday, but none of the 400 members of Arnie's Army watching him play nine holes at Dominion Valley Country Club in Haymarket seemed to mind very much. After all, the man did design the golf course, and so what if he wanted to hit an extra ball off the tee, or even take a do-over on a botched six-foot putt?
Palmer flew his airplane from Jacksonville to Dulles Airport yesterday morning and took a drive from there to cut a ribbon at the first tee of the private club, which has been open for play to its membership since last fall. He conducted a 45-minute clinic at the practice range, walked and played the front nine with hundreds following behind and came back to answer a few media questions before flying back to Florida.
The course winds through a gated community that will eventually include 2,300 houses, and Palmer played from the back tees of the championship layout that measures 7,044 yards. He was still able to knock the occasional 270-yard drive down the fairway, and while no one really kept score, his game certainly still was decent enough to think he would probably shoot around his age -- he'll be 75 in September -- if he had taken it seriously.
Throughout the morning, Palmer graciously answered a wide variety of questions and signed virtually anything that was thrust his way.
Palmer said yesterday he still has not made a decision on whether he will serve as an honorary starter at the 2005 Masters. He played in his 50th and last tournament at Augusta National last month, but sounded yesterday as if he might just show up on the first tee next year and whack a ceremonial drive to start the tournament.
"I feel like I'm still too young to do that," he said. "Actually, I will be thinking about that. I will be at Augusta for next year's Masters [for the champion's dinner], and I may possibly accept the offer if it's still an offer when the time comes."
During the clinic, Palmer was asked what advice he'd give to talented young players in terms of when to turn professional. He didn't start playing for pay until he'd been in the real Army for three years and was 25 years old, and Palmer's initial recommendation was that "they get their education and go to school."
Later, he was asked about 14-year-old Michelle Wie, the Honolulu prodigy who has already played one event on the PGA Tour, missing the cut by a shot in Hawaii in January, and has had three top-20 finishes on the LPGA circuit this season while still attending the ninth grade back home.
"I know she has expressed an interest in going to college and playing college golf, which is what I recommend for all players," he said. "You can get old too young. One of the ways to get old is to turn professional and start beating the bushes. Life goes along pretty fast. She should enjoy the amateur days and when the time comes, her collegiate career, then think about turning pro."