Tournament: The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Course: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, 7,419 yards, par 72
Defending Champion: Jason Day. The Aussie was still pretty dominant at this point last year, and held off several challengers while fighting his own swing. He would return to the world #1 ranking after he won the following WGC Match Play. Read: He good.
Fun Fact: Arnold Palmer bought the course, thus the nickname of “Arnie’s Place”. But Tiger Woods has won on this course 8 times, without even playing the last four years.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday-Sunday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. (GC), 2:30-6 p.m. (NBC). Yep, NBC still has the coverage while CBS starts milking March Madness marketing money.
Former 'Dawgs in the Field (Seven): Harris English, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson.
I’ll address the title and byline immediately. I am not a fan of Arnold Palmer. Not since 1981 at least. And I wasn’t that big a fan before that. If you follow golf at all, you will immediately understand that I am the lone person in the US, possibly the world, who feels this way. You always hear of our heroes described thusly: “No one ever has a bad thing to say about the guy.” Stories of Arnold’s generosity, humble nature, and going out of his way to help people and engage with fans is legendary. According to all the media I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a lot), Arnold never turned down an autograph. Supposedly he had a “six figure” postage bill every year sending autographed memoribilia to requesters who had failed to include a postage paid return envelope (I don’t buy the “six figure” statement either, but its on the documentary produced by Golf Channel). He went out of his way, especially for the kids.
Uhhhh, I beg to differ. In 1981 I was at a Masters practice round (I could swear it was Wednesday of Masters week). In those days you could get autographs on the grounds and on the course during practice. It was customary to buy a white Masters visor as soon as you got in the gate, whip out your marker, and collect signatures all day long. This particular year I had a visor full, but was seeking out Palmer specifically. He was squeezing in a late 9, it was very late in the afternoon, and on the first nine I approached him hat in hand after he hit an approach shot. Me: “Mr. Palmer, can you sign my visor?” Him: “Not now kid.”
There. That’s it. That’s why I’m not crazy about him. There were 50 people around him, who some call fans, but I refer to as witnesses. My cousin being one of them. Case of sour grapes? You bet. Just a fluke, anomaly, outlier? 100%. And yet... it exists. Plus, so many people loved Palmer and rooted against Nicklaus, though Nicklaus was clearly the better golfer and proved so early in his career. So I’m a Golden Bear fan, and you can like Palmer if you want to.
And everyone will. The PGA Tour comes to Bay Hill, Arnold Palmer’s personal course, and heavy will be the hearts of his legions of fans because of his death last September. They’ve unveiled a statue, and there will be celebrations aplenty on the man who ushered in the age of golf on TV, and was there to be its standard bearer. Just so you know, he never got a ticker tape parade. But Atlanta’s own Bobby Jones did.... twice.
Enough about Arnold, let’s hear something about UGA. As you see above, seven former Bulldogs are entered this week, so here’s who to root for:
Harris English. An inconsistent season was typified last week. He opened with 77, 6 shots north of the cut line, and 90 times out of 100, you won’t make the cut. But a 2nd round 65 moved him up about 80 spots, and a 2 under par weekend gave him a T27 finish. Never give up kids.
Brian Harman. The “other” lefty from UGA, he’s only missed the cut 4 of 12 tourneys so far this season, yet he’s missed 2 of the last 3. Why are lefties always crafty? I don’t know, but Harman fits the bill with sneaky distance and usually a hot putter that saves strokes.
Russell Henley. Macon, Georgia’s most successful golfer after local legends like Arnold Blum, Peter Persons, and Lee Gerdes, Henley is a two-time winner on Tour, and is a very streaky player. When he’s hot, he racks up birdies by the gross. When he’s not, well, he doesn’t score as well. #HotTaek
Chris Kirk. Unflappable, steady, with a swing smoother than a baby’s backside. You can’t rile this guy, and he’s bounced back nicely from a broken hand. I think his game starts turning around as the weather warms up.
Kevin Kisner. He’s solid, and will not back down. And after a few years to find his game, he’s broken out to be a well-respected player by his peers. He’s been in several playoffs, but has never defeated himself. And he’s currently inside the top 50 in the world, about 200 spots better than he was 2 years ago.
Hudson Swafford. The big righty is starting to follow the path Kisner took. He is a steady player, but never scared the top of the leaderboard until the last 6 months. Then, with ice in his veins, he played incredibly clutch golf to capture his first Tour title in the desert and is now top 20 in FedEx Cup and top 100 in the world.
Bubba Watson. Apparently relishing one of the worst reputations on Tour, Bubba is a social media wunderkind, is extremely fun-loving, and calls some of the nicest guys on Tour his best friends. He’s always had incredible God-given talent, and his home life seems to have calmed down some of the infamous rants on the course. Formerly #2 in the world, with 2 majors and 8 other wins under his belt, he is currently inside top 20 in the world.
Basketball is over, at least if you only follow UGA. Baseball isn’t great, if you only follow UGA. No one really cares about hockey, well, you do if you only follow UGA. But hey... golf is a year-round, lifelong sport. So when your bracket is busted, flip the tube on over to NBC properties and catch our DGD’s in action.
And as always...