USA TODAY Sports’ Steve DiMeglio reflects on the loss of the golf legend.
USA TODAY Sports
ORLANDO — Geoff Ogilvy had been struggling for a few years when he landed in Reno, Nevada, for the 2014 Barracuda Championship.
The winner of 13 titles worldwide, including the 2006 U.S. Open and three World Golf Championships events, had not won in more than four years. While there were trying times, the Aussie kept at it week after week. His perseverance paid off when he found his form by Lake Tahoe and pulled away for a 5-point win in the Modified Stableford tournament.
Four days later, the victory became even more special.
Ogilvy got a letter from Arnold Palmer.
“That was the one that moved me,” Ogilvy said. “All the letters mean so much, but that one, that letter blew me away.”
“Well done, Geoff, I know you’ve been struggling. This is a great win. Welcome back. Great to see. Sincerely, Arnold Palmer”
The Barracuda Championship was an opposite field event played the same week of the star-packed Bridgestone Invitational.
“The world wasn’t watching, but Arnold was watching,” Ogilvy said. “He was a professional golfer. He knew about the struggles we all go through out there. How hard it is to get your game back sometimes. And it meant so much to me that he noticed. That letter showed the man. You can tell it was him writing it. It wasn’t a form letter. None of his letters were a form letter. Everything in it was relevant to my struggles, to how I played, it was real.”
This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge is a fitting tribute to a legend, from the 13-foot bronze statue of Palmer in full swing between the first and 10th tee, to his golf bag standing tall on the practice range, to his golf cart resting by the 16th tee, pointed toward the 18th hole.
The week has been one not of mourning but of celebration for the icon who passed away in September, with abundant stories being told about the man who influenced the game so much and the lives of so many.
Many of the tales were about the thousands of letters Palmer started sending decades ago to all the winners on the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, LPGA tour and Web.com Tour. Some winners of collegiate events got letters, too, as did some winners of overseas events.
Whether they were hand-written or typed, each letter was personalized.
“Getting a letter from Mr. Palmer is special,” said Jason Day, who is defending his 2016 title this week. “You feel he only did it only for you even though you know he did it for every single winner on the PGA Tour. Every single winner. It’s just a great feeling knowing he watched you win and then he took the time to write to you.”
“Whenever you see the letterhead and see who it’s from,” Rickie Fowler said, “and it could be a blank page and just signed Arnold Palmer at the end and just have the other stuff on there and it would be awesome. I know everyone’s going to miss those. That was something that in a way you almost thought about when you did win something, not that it was expected, but you knew there was a good chance that Arnold was watching and he was going to be sending a letter out. And you can’t beat that.”
Rory McIlroy received his first letter from Palmer when he won his first PGA Tour title in the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship. He received letters after every win since. All of them are framed. The one that stands out came in the mail after he won the first of his four majors at the 2011 U.S. Open.
“You are now in a position where you have the opportunity to give back to the game that is making you famous, and I hope, and certainly feel sure, that you will live up to that obligation in the months and years ahead. Just continue to be yourself. Don’t change. Sincerely, Arnold Palmer”
“Those were good words of wisdom and words to live by,” McIlroy said. “All the letters are special.”
After winning his first PGA Tour title in the 2009 Bob Hope Classic, Pat Perez received a different type of document from Palmer. It was the 50th anniversary of the tournament and Palmer was on hand to present the trophy to Perez, whose friends snapped pictures of the exchange. Perez sent one of the photos to Palmer, who signed it.
“He signed the flag, too,” Perez said. “I put the picture underneath the flag and framed the whole thing and it’s in my house. Greatest piece of memorabilia I have. Now I’m tied to him with my first win. It’s just incredible. …
“If there is a fire in the house, I’m grabbing four things – my wife, my two dogs and that piece of memorabilia.”
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