Wednesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard always belongs to the amateurs and their net best-ball event. At the Pairing Party on Tuesday evening, each of the 52 professionals claimed three playing partners, and the Pro-Am the next day was undoubtedly the highlight of the week for the fortunate 156 amateurs who got to tee it up with the Big Boys.
And just as Arnold himself had a career-long connection with his fans, the Big Boys seemed to like the format and their interaction with their team members (who had each paid $8,500). The pros walked the fairways in conversation with their amateurs, helped them to read their putts, and acted as cheerleaders when an important putt was sunk. Occasionally, they also had to yell, “Fore right!” or “Fore left!” Without question, however, it was a memorable and enjoyable day for the amateurs and their captains.
The media center generated some excitement, too, as PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem explained changes to the API that will begin in 2017. Then, two of the most popular players on the planet, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy, gave extensive interviews to an SRO room of golf journalists.
Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation to Host the API
Commissioner Finchem said, “Let me just start by saying that I think from my own perspective, without question, Arnold Palmer has been the most dynamic, impact-full player in the history of the game on a lot of different levels. This tournament has been very successful over the years, but today we want to talk about a few changes which we think will have a dramatic impact in terms of its perpetuation into the future as one of the leading events globally and certainly on the PGA Tour.
“So, first of all, on the charity side, starting in 2017, the newly established Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation will be managing oversight of the tournament as the host organization for the tournament.”
The Foundation will be directed by a board that includes Amy Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s daughter and mother of Tour player Sam Saunders; David Barger, former CEO of Jet Blue; and Alastair Johnston, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises. In effect, Arnold Palmer is distancing himself from the day-to-day management of the API and its charitable functions.
The Commissioner continued, “In addition to the charitable activity, the Foundation was also established to carry on Arnold’s strong legacy of giving back as well as health initiatives, helping children and youth, and strengthening the overall economy of the community and the environment.
“We’re also pleased to announce that next year the purse here will be $8.7 million which positions this week as one of the premiere weeks from the standpoint of financial benefits to the players. And as we started last year, the winner’s exemption will be a unique three years, again positioning the tournament with unique stature.”
Adam Scott Would Like to Win His Third Straight
Adam Scott, fresh off two consecutive wins at The Honda and the WGC-Cadillac at Doral, is currently #1 in the FedEx Cup and #6 in the Official World Rankings. With 13 victories, Scott owns more PGA Tour titles than any active player under the age of 40. He did not play in the Valspar at Innisbrook last week, and he was asked, “How are you feeling going into this week?”
Scott said, “Yeah, I think I’m pretty refreshed. I had a nice week at home last week. It’s back to business now, I’ve had some good rounds here [tied course record 62], and I’ve had some good chances here. I haven’t put four rounds together yet. So, I’d like nothing more than at 8:11 tomorrow morning to have my head firmly on my shoulders and focused and ready to go. I’d like to continue with some of the form that I’ve played with the last few weeks.”
He was then asked, “What makes the API an attractive stop for you?”
Scott replied, “First and foremost, Arnold Palmer. Is that enough said? You’ll hear it from us all how much he means to the game and how much respect he has from all the players. The players’ generations after him understand what he’s done for us. But also, like I said, I enjoy the golf course. I think it sets up well for me. So many great things are happening at this tournament. It’s something I want to be a part of. I’d love to have a chance to win this Sunday.”
Several questions were asked about his putting, focusing upon his change from the anchored putting stroke that won the Masters to his current putting stroke with a traditional putter. Scott said, “I think it’s fair to say I am as confident as ever. I feel really, really good over the ball. I’ve made a lot of putts, and I’ve made a couple crucial putts, which is nice. Obviously, my confidence was tested with the six or so footer on the last hole at Doral that I needed to win, and I made it. That brings a lot of confidence. I’d say right now I am as confident as any period in my career.”
Rory McIlroy Evaluates the Course and his Career Grand Slam
Rory McIlroy, #2 in the World Rankings, finished T-11 last year at the API and is making his second start here. Rory began his interview by talking about his relationship with Arnold Palmer. “You know, I got a chance to spend some time with Mr. Palmer last year and had a really nice dinner with him. It’s great to come here and pay homage to one of the greats of the game, someone who built this game into what it is today. He’s a real icon of the sport and it’s great to play at his home. It would obviously be great to win here one day—and no better week to do it than this week.”
McIlroy was asked about his impressions of the golf course. He said, “It’s incredible. The place is perfect. The greens, the fairways, the tee boxes, the rough—you couldn’t ask for a golf course to be in better condition. Greens are a good speed. The rough is pretty penal in places. I don’t think you’ll see the scores as low as they were last year. I finished 11-under and finished T-11. Something close to that will have a chance this year. Overall, the golf course really suits my game, and my game feels in good shape.”
Needing a Masters victory to complete the Career Grand Slam, McIlroy was asked if pursuing this victory had added any pressure to the event. He said, “I really feel like I can’t think that much about it. Of course, it’s one of the biggest things that’s left for me that I haven’t been able to achieve, and I want to achieve it. You can prepare all you want, but if you don’t go out on the golf course and execute the shots, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in preparation.
“So, I think it’s just a matter of getting my game as good as I possibly can. This is my 8th time going back to Augusta and the Masters. I would love it to be this year but, if not, I’m going to have plenty more chances. I’ve been trending in the right direction, so I’m pretty confident going in there.”
McIlroy was asked, “If there’s one thing you could borrow from Arnold Palmer or his example, what would it be?”
He responded, “How good he is with people. If you look at how he is with people, how generous he is with his time, and how gracious he is, he’s a great example to anyone growing up playing this game. At the end of the day, the only reason that I’m up here speaking to you guys is, yes, I’m a good golfer, but if there wasn’t an industry and there weren’t fans or media, I wouldn’t be up here. In that respect, he was the greatest of all. I think people resonated so much with him because he could hit it anywhere and still find a shot. It was fun to watch.”
(Photography by Vicky MacKay)