Preparations at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge are finished and fitted with fresh new greens. The 38th Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard kicks off this week. Keep a look out for players like Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and last years champion Matt Every. More than 130 PGA players set off to take on the challenge in sunny Orlando Florida.
You have 5 of the top 10 players in the world here and a great mix of veterans and young players. Can you assess the field for this week’s tournament?
ARNOLD PALMER: We have a great field and I’m very happy about that. It’s a tough time of year as it gets closer to the Masters, but I’m appreciative of the players who are here, and I’m expecting a great week.
How do you like the new grasses on the golf course and how will it impact the competition?
ARNOLD PALMER: I am so pleased with my golf course. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to say that it’s the best I’ve ever seen it – without equivocation. We reseeded the entire golf course, and the results are fantastic. We closed the golf course for three months and made a commitment to really making the golf course the best it’s ever been.
This is the 38th year for the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard. What do you think about when you reflect on the years hosting the tournament?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, first and foriost is how pleased I am that the community has been great through the years in supporting this event. I’m very thankful for that. And I am thankful for the volunteers who have contributed so much to what we have tried to do here. This year, in fact, we are dedicating the event to our volunteers. We’ve had more than 1,400 volunteers through the years, some of whom will be wearing special T-shirts on Saturday in recognition of their commitment. Finally, I just want to thank MasterCard for their support over the years. The people at MasterCard have been great partners.
Rory McIlroy is back at Bay Hill for a second year. He seis destined to win the Masters at some point; what do you see as his biggest obstacle?
ARNOLD PALMER: I think he has the game to justify the expectations that he will win the Grand Slam. He has all of the tools necessary to do that.
After winning last year’s Masters, Jordan Spieth is now your locker-mate in the champion’s locker room. What did you think about his victory last year, especially at such a young age?
ARNOLD PALMER: I did know that he and I are sharing a locker, which is nice. Jordan’s play was very good last year, especially at Augusta. He’s done a great job in a short period of time.
Talk about your plans for the Masters this year. Do you plan to hit the opening tee shot?
ARNOLD PALMER: I called the chairman, Billy Payne, and informed him that I have resigned from hitting the cerionial first tee shot. He expressed regret that I couldn’t do that, but he was pleased that I would be present. I am going to attend the Champions Dinner and then go home on Thursday, which has been my usual schedule the last few years. I plan to go out to the first tee with the chairman on Thursday morning and watch Jack [Nicklaus] and Gary [Player] sweat it out and hit the shots. Am I disappointed by that? Well, sure, but time moves on. I stopped playing in the Masters in 2004, I stopped playing in the Par-3 [Contest] last year, and now it’s time to end this part of my Masters career. I would love to go on doing it forever, but I don’t have the physical capability to hit the shot the way I would want to hit it. So I’ll have to be content to watch.
Can you talk about last year’s Champion’s Dinner at Augusta? They awarded you a piece of the Eisenhower Tree and by many accounts it was really a special evening with a lot of storytelling.
ARNOLD PALMER: The significance of the tree is the riibrance of President Eisenhower, a part of the history of Augusta. It was a very important part of the dinner, which was wonderful, with a lot of stories and so on. Ben Crenshaw presented each of us a piece of the tree, and that was very special given my relationship with the former President.
Over the past few years you’ve seen your grandson, Sam Saunders, mature into not just a full-time PGA TOUR miber, but a husband and father. How proud of him are you and what has it been like to witness these changes in him, both as a person and as a golfer?
ARNOLD PALMER: I think, first of all, I’m very proud of him in general. I am happy to see him playing well and his performance has been good. He is coming on as I hoped he would at this stage of his life, and I think he can be a definite factor on the PGA TOUR in the years to come. He is a fine young man as well as a fine golfer. He is doing things the right way.
What are your thoughts on Oakmont as a championship course? And what do you remember most about the day at your last U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont?
ARNOLD PALMER: It was really designed as a championship golf course, and it has held up through the years very well. It’s hard. I don’t know any other way of saying it. As for 1994, I didn’t do very well, but it was a great occasion for me even though I was not playing the way I had hoped. And it was obviously a very iotional day that last day, but it was a great miory for me and I have had a lot of great miories at Oakmont over the years.
Do you have ber miories about the people you met or the shots you hit?
ARNOLD PALMER: I think the people I have met have meant a great deal to me, more than any shot I ever hit. I will always riiber some golf shots, but others I would like to forget. But I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from people who have supported me, golfers who have helped me. If it wasn’t for the game of golf I’d probably be mowing the greens back in Latrobe.
What do you make of the way Phil Mickelson has carried himself throughout his career and do you see similarities between you and him on and off the golf course?
ARNOLD PALMER: Phil has done a great job. He’s a great player and he’s conducted himself very well through the years. He’s been a good ambassador for the game. He hasn’t won in a while, but he still has time, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won again.
Why did you find it so important to have such a connection with the fans throughout your career?
ARNOLD PALMER: Well, the fans motivated me. They gave me the incentive to want to play and to want to win and to continue to play as my career progressed. They were never a distraction. I enjoyed the fans thoroughly, and they were always helpful. They were the reason that I tried so hard over the years.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?