Father’s Day weekend is always extra special in my book thanks to the televised coverage of the US Open. This year, both the Men and Ladies will compete on famed Pinehurst Number Two Course. This world class golf masterpiece in the sand hills of North Carolina will certainly test every physical and mental skill of the very best players in the game. It is of my opinion that It always comes down to a single trait that determines who stands alone as victor, and this I now share with you from my book, Mentored by the King, Arnold Palmer’s Success Lessons for Golf, Business and Life.
The Power of Perseverance
Arnold Palmer has always been a stickler for being on time. When it comes to keeping schedules and appointments with the King, the old adage of “better an hour early than a minute late” applies. On this particular day, we were scheduled for a quick trip from Orlando to the first round of the Tournament Players Club (TPC) in Tampa Bay, Florida. I had been advised we’d be “wheels in the well” by 6:30 a.m. (“Wheels in the well” is Palmer’s code for advising when he wants us to be in the air, i.e., the time when the landing gear better be up and locked away in the belly of the plane.) I knew better than to be late.
The privilege of flying on the King’s Cessna Citation X (which at the time of writing was the fastest civilian aircraft in the world, capable of breaking the speed of sound) never gets old. When I boarded the jet that morning, Arnold had already jumped into the pilot’s seat and was going through the preflight checklist. Though he always flies with his trusted copilot, Pete Luster, Palmer began flying in the 1950s and has logged well over 18,000 miles of flight hours.
It was an extremely short flight of twenty minutes, and as we pulled into the Tampa Municipal Airport terminal, I heard him talking to Pete. Arnie sounded like he was struggling mightily with a head cold. When he came out of the cockpit to say “Hello” and “Good morning,” it was obvious to me that the man was miserable. He was squinting through his watery eyes and speaking with a frog-like tenor voice. He looked like he should have stayed home in bed for the day.
Watching the Star on a Different Stage
Over the next several hours, I would observe one of the King’s most incredible performances?—??but this time it had little to do with his swing and everything to do with intestinal fortitude. Arnold is nearly obsessive when it comes to keeping his obligations; if he agrees to do something, it’s almost as good as being done. That day was no different. Palmer had promised he would attend and play in the tournament?—??people were expecting him there?—??and Arnold would not disappoint his fans.
When you are tough on yourself, life is going to be infinitely easier on you.
Motivational speaker and author, Zig Ziglar
As soon as the courtesy car rolled into the players’ parking lot and word got out that Arnie was on the property, a buzz rippled through the crowds waiting there. I spotted a large throng of people hustling our way. Members of the media, everyday fans, and tournament sponsors all wanted a moment with the “King of golf.” As he made his way from the locker room to the practice fairway for his pre-round warm-up, he stopped and visited, shook hands, and posed for photographs with his fans.
From my vantage point, Arnie appeared to have made a miraculous recovery. He had a broad smile on his face. He was standing tall and acting energized. He looked like a million bucks. From every indication, he was giving his very best to each interaction. Even more importantly, Arnold genuinely appeared to be enjoying himself?—??and because he was happy, everyone around him was happy too.
Throughout the course of his round, out of sight of the cameras and the fans, I would occasionally catch a glimpse of Arnold inconspicuously taking a few deep breaths and resting heavily on his bag. Only Arnold’s caddie, Royce; his pilot, Pete; and I knew that Mr. Palmer was doing his best just to make it through the day. There was no doubt he was struggling, but he never once talked about it or tried to gain sympathy. When it was his turn to go, and cameras and lights came back on, Arnie was onstage and a hundred percent focused on the shot or the conversation at hand. As I recall, Mr. Palmer finished the day with a respectable score of one under par and just four shots off the lead.
The Lesson of the Day
Looking back on that day in Tampa, I realized what a magnificent acting job had taken place. For Palmer, it was truly an example of mind over matter. When Arnold and entourage climbed back into the courtesy car and headed for the airport, he was incredibly congested and hoarse. If I were a star in my seventies with ninety-two Tour victories and more than enough money to pay for groceries, would I have persevered in similar fashion? Would you?
In the days since, I’ve thought about that experience, especially when I am not feeling my best and inclined to blow off the day. In doing so, I’m reminded of the role I play in other people’s lives and how they might be affected or inconvenienced by my absence. The quirky comedian and film star Woody Allen once wryly observed that “eighty percent of success is showing up.” I think Woody’s math is a bit subjective, but the overall premise is correct.
Arnold Palmer has made a career of showing up?—??but he’s beloved for more reasons than his perfect attendance record. He is a disciplined performer who diligently works to feed and maintain a positive mindset, a trait that allows him to dip deeply into his vast reserves and pull off what his body would otherwise not allow him to do.
The idea of “faking it till you make it” is not a principle borne out of disingenuousness or insincerity. Rather it’s a habit of the head and a practice of sometimes doing the hard thing for all the right reasons. It’s giving of yourself for the sake of others. It’s putting the greater good ahead of personal convenience and comfort. I am hoping this short story has inspired you to want more from your game and to pursue the very best to achieve it.
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Until next time, happy golfing,