I just learned of the passing of Arnold Palmer. This is a long story, but I’ll cut it short. We both grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and he is the absolute sole reason I’m where I am today. In 1985 I played golf fairly well (lie), but my real job was being an instructor in the best fighter ever made, the F-16. I was ordered to fly to Miami to escort some VIP around for a week while he hung out with every general in the world and then lead a mission while he got to fly the Viper (definitely not a place to be if you have a cool non-regulation mustache, but I was a fighter pilot and had a scarf!). Yes, Sir!
My jet was clean and spotless on the base ramp as I was surrounded by every general in the world. Every one of them looking at my white lip, cackling under their breath knowing I had just euthanized my killer mustache. It got pretty loud as the Cessna Citation taxied next to my sleek Viper, big ceremony about to start, but all I could see was the tail number of the Cessna: APN1…what was that! As it got quiet and the door opened I saw the VIP: Arnold Palmer Number 1. I spent most of the week with him.
Before our mission he asked what I wanted to do when I hung up my flying boots. After a few negative responses from me about hauling trash for an airline, he said if I practiced my short game I could become a member of the PGA of America. So I did; I’ve been a member since 1994. I was honored a few years ago when Jack Whittaker told the story of Mr. Palmer and me on the Golf Channel. It was from the book A Spirit of Golf, by John M. Capozzi. I can feel that Spirit right now, RIP, Mr. Palmer.