By MICK HOLIEN
There is just not anything like Sunday at Augusta … the usual packed gallery …the pomp and circumstance on a beautiful Georgia day,
But a huge part of the Masters tradition was lacking this year because of the first-time absence of one of the sport’s mainstays.
With no deference to Gary Player, who joined ageless Jack Nicklaus for the traditional tee-off but it marks the first time since 1955 that Arnold Palmer and his congenial smile was noticeably not present.
Player hit his tee shot a little shorter than the 77-year-old Golden Bear who tipped his hat to the skies in recognition of his old friend who died last year at the age of 87.
Admittedly I have unfortunately never been to the Masters and confess I wouldn’t be able to describe the difference between a five iron from a three or a seven.
There is a difference right?
A half dozen years ago though I stood outside waiting anxiously for Palmer to arrive at the awards dinner for the National Sportswriters and sports broadcasters association in Salisbury, N.C.
While representatives from most states were in attendance it was a social affair but I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to catch a few comments with the golfing icon.
He graciously stopped before entering and was kind enough to give me and my pal Gwen a few minutes but took the opportunity to reach around her waist to her backside where I would say he just gave her a little palm nudge.
He was in his eighties.
Please don’t be offended but if you knew Gwen, who has since lost her long battle with cancer, it wouldn’t surprise you to know rather than being upset she smiled and reciprocated.
As a dinner guest Palmer was seated with Jim Nantz, who was again being honored as National Sportscaster of the Year.
Since I have attended a few of these banquets since first winning the state award in 1988 I have come to know the cordial Nantz, who himself is easily approachable.
Later as dinner was approaching I noticed Palmer get up and walk across the entire venue approaching another table where I noticed another familiar face.
Nudging Gwen to get her camera ready here comes Arnie to embrace Furman Bisher, the iconic renowned former sportswriter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Palmer was well into his eighties and Bisher in his 90s and to me it represented a rare occurrence when a superior athlete pays homage to a media member who simply like Palmer was the best in his profession and whose eloquent words were respected as much as was Palmer’s golf game.
It was a touching moment and was my headline for the three-day event.
Several weeks later came an email from Nantz at CBS Sports calling my description of that moment in a Flathead Beacon column one of the finest he had ever read while capturing an “important moment” in his life.
Surprised I was thankful that I recognized what was happening.
Arnie signed a baseball for me that night and while I had no real reason to his absence and the presence of his widow made me appreciate even more fully than usual how it isn’t always all about what happens between the lines)