Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Friendly Host Players Salute Legendary Arnold Palmer as the Standup Man Behind His Tournament

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Friendly Host Players Salute Legendary Arnold Palmer as the Standup Man Behind His Tournament

Article excerpt

ORLANDO, Fla. - Growing up playing on public golf courses in New Mexico, Notah Begay knew little about Arnold Palmer.

By the time he played the Bay Hill Invitational for the first time in 1999, Begay was well aware of The King. What stunned the 26-year-old Begay was the legendary Palmer actually knew something about him, too.

"For a man of his stature to come up and shake your hand and ask you something about Albuquerque, it just blew you away," Begay said. "It was like, man, Arnold Palmer knows something about Albuquerque. That's pretty cool."

Palmer's personal interest in each of his 120 guests annually at Bay Hill Club and Lodge is among the customs unique to his tournament.

"Arnold is very involved," said Peter Jacobsen, a seven-time PGA Tour winner who played in Palmer's inaugural event in 1979. "He will make the call and ask some players to play. I can't imagine saying no to the great Arnold Palmer if he called and asked you to play."

A personal invite from Palmer leading up to the event or a handshake behind the 18th green are nods to a time when a tournament host, rather than a tournament sponsor, set the tone.

"He comes from that era of being hospitable, and that's the way the tournament presents itself," Begay, now 42 and an analyst for Golf Channel, said. "It really tries to embrace the players. [Palmer] knows a little bit of something about everybody. That's just the kind of person he is. He's a great host.

"It's like you invite people to your house, you want to make them feel comfortable, that's exactly what he does."

Palmer's hands-on approach and attention to detail helped turn the Bay Hill Invitational into one of the most star-studded stops on Tour.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh - the four top players on Tour during the past 20 years - have each won the event since 1997. This includes eight wins by Woods and two from Els.

In 2005, 25-year-old Graeme McDowell - now 35 and ranked the world's No. 22 player - began a long-standing relationship with the Orlando area when he finished second to Kenny Perry.

McDowell hails from Northern Ireland, but played his college golf at UAB, where he became familiar with Palmer's place in the game. …

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