Caddying For Arnold Palmer Before He Was A King

Neil Sagebiel, the editor of the wonderful blog Armchair Golfer just published this short piece I wrote for him on Arnold Palmer. Here it is, story about the King.

The iconic Palmer brought golf to the masses (and breakfast table).

By John Coyne

GOLF MAGAZINES THIS PAST month were filled with remembrances of Arnold Palmer on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

I read Boo Weekley’s account in the September 14, 2009 issue of Golf World about how Arnie said he always signed an autograph so people could read it. It reminded me of seeing Palmer at the PGA Championship at Congressional Country Club back in the ’70s. Arnold was coming into the press room for an interview and was stopped by a 10-year-old for an autograph, and I watched as he carefully wrote out his full name for the young boy.

However, the best story I have heard lately comes from a former caddie at Tam O’Shanter Country Club in Chicago back in the last days of the famous World Championship staged in the ’50s by George May. Researching a novel about Tam during those glory days of early golf tournaments in Chicago, I have been in touch with a number of former caddies who worked at Tam.

A Palmer Caddie from Yesteryear

The following account of Palmer comes from Ted Born, who lives and teaches today in Denver. Ted recalls his brief looping days with Arnie-before Palmer was Palmer.

Ted writes:

“In 1957, when the All American and World Championship tournaments were held during consecutive weeks, I was in a National Guard summer camp until the Sunday of the last round of the All American. I decided to bike out to Tam on Monday to see if I could get lucky. Freddie Seibel, the caddie master said yes, he had a bag for me and it was Arnold Palmer. He stressed that it was Arnold and not Johnny Palmer, who was also a touring professional during that era. Arnie had won a few tournaments to that point, but he really burst onto the radar the next year when he won his first Masters. I asked about Arnie’s caddie during the All American, did he get sick or injured? No, Freddie replied, Arnie had fired him. Why? I asked. Because he lacked enthusiasm, replied Freddie. Then and there I decided that I would be enthusiastic.

“I caddied practice rounds for Arnie on Tuesday and Wednesday before the start of the World’s and I will never forget the first drive I saw him hit. Arnie hit down on his drives so the ball took off like a 747. One hundred yards out it was 10-12 feet off the ground and rising!

“During the tournament, Arnie changed balls every three holes, using six new balls a round. After three holes the soft ball would go out of shape, so changing balls frequently was a must.

“I didn’t read greens for Arnie, but gave him a lot of help with distance and club selection. In that regard, I distinctly remember my ‘mistake’ on the 71st hole, the uphill 17th. Arnie had about 145 yards to the pin with an out of bounds fence immediately back of the green. Arnie pulled a 7-iron out of the bag and asked me for confirmation. Granted, it was uphill, but this was 27-year-old Arnie, as strong as a bull! He already had the club in his hands so, of course, the caddie has to tell him how to hit it. I avowed that it was not a full 7 (it wasn’t). Arnie eased up on the 7, and when we saw the ball on the green short of the pin, Arnie turned around and gave me a ‘look.’ 72 holes and I had one mess-up.

“After the second round Arnie was at 140, and he was upset. I explained that 280 would probably win the tournament (and it did, Dick Mayer won, the same year he won the U.S. Open). Unfortunately, Arnie finished 74-71 for 285 and won $1,500. He paid me 5 percent, $75 for six days of work. Caddying for members, I would have made $120 during those six days. I found out later that Arnie always paid his caddie 5 percent, which is why he had trouble hanging on to a caddie later in his career.

“I remember meeting Winnie and their infant oldest daughter as I loaded his clubs into the trunk of the Cadillac he was driving at the time.

“I have been in contact with Arnie since. I sent him the number he had to wear on the back of his pants during the World’s. That was May’s idea, so the spectators could more easily identify the players. In return, Arnie sent me several autographed Cherry Hills scorecards, one for me and one for each of my four children. He also sent an autographed copy of his personally published book commemorating his win in the 1954 U.S. Amateur. He is a great guy. He is 80 this month and I hope he has many more years of golf ahead of him.”

Many have Arnie stories, but few had the opportunity to spend a week working for the man. That’s a caddie’s life.

John Coyne is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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