Happy birthday, Arnold Palmer

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

Hopefully all the players teeing off in the BMW Championship yesterday in Chicago took time to turn to the east, face Latrobe, Pa. -- the birthplace of Arnold Palmer, 80 years ago to the day -- and genuflect.

It was Palmer's swashbuckling style, charisma and connection to the common man which boosted golf from a sport for the elite to the mainstream in the early 1960s.

He is the reason today's golfers play for the money they do in a system where a guy who doesn't win a thing can rake in a couple million dollars a year.

It's not too much of a stretch to say Palmer is the reason why the winner of the FedEx Cup will get $10 million.

His key? Palmer had the ability to connect with people.

One of the stories I think best sums that up comes from PGA Tour player Jason Gore.

When Gore was 11, he and his mother visited Latrobe Country Club. Gore had his picture taken with Palmer and got a signed scorecard.

Palmer then invited Gore to watch him hit balls for 45 minutes.

"From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer," Gore told Golf Magazine.

Palmer apparently had that effect on a lot of people.

Here and there

One of Palmer's passions is flying (he set an around-the-world-speed record a few years ago). I heard an interview with him on the PGA Tour Network and he mentioned he went to the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., to film a commercial the other day. He flew himself there on his Citation 10 jet. How many 80-year-olds would even drive? ... You want to talk staying power? When Forbes ranked the top earning athletes a couple of years ago, Palmer checked in at 20th with an income of $25 million...Only the top 30 in FedEx Cup points after this week advance to the Tour Championship. Mike Weir is at 27th and needs a strong week. Stephen Ames is 63rd and probably needs a top-5 finish to advance.

Revelations

Golf Magazine has released its bi-annual ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the World and two Canadian tracks remained on the list. St. George's in Toronto, which has been getting some positive publicity from hosting the RBC Canadian Open next year, moved up from 92nd to 89th. Cape Breton's Highlands Links has shown some remarkable staying power, though it slipped from 79th to 86th. It will be interesting to see if the tree-removal program and other improvements being undertaken at Highlands Links by architect Ian Andrew will elevate the Stanley Thompson masterpiece in the eyes of the raters ... Three players at the CN Canadian Women's Open in Calgary found the time to pose "semi-nude" for the upcoming "Bodies" issue of ESPN The Magazine. Sandra Gal, Anna Grzebien and Christina Kim took the time to pose for those photos that have a club or a tree or a ball washer strategically positioned to make the photos "artsy." There will also be male athletes in the feature, but you can bet somebody will accuse the women of exploiting their sexuality to sell their sport. Frankly, with just 16 events on the LPGA schedule for next year, the LPGA Tour needs all the help it can get.

Speculations

They're calling FedEx points leader Steve Stricker "Mr. September." Not bad for a guy struggling so bad just a few years ago his name might have been "Don't Remember." ... Phil Mickelson hasn't been ripping it up on the course, but might have figured out how to keep winning over fans. During Wednesday's pro-am for the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston last week, he bought hot dogs and hamburgers for about 150 people on the 12th hole. Then he left a $125 tip for the high school kids who were staffing the concession stand.

Just saying

It's a lean time on the LPGA Tour for Canadians and that point was hammered home by the fact there were no Canadians playing on the weekend at the CN Canadian Women's Open in Calgary. Veteran Lorie Kane is struggling to recapture her former form (she's only broken 70 twice this year and her best finish is a T47) and Hamilton's Alena Sharp has yet to break through (she's missed the cut in six of her last eight events and sits 75th on the money list). There is help on the way. Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C., and Oshawa's Angela Buzminski have earned full LGPA exemptions for next year by finishing in the top 10 on the Duramed Futures Tour money list.

Just wondering

Did you ever think Presidents Cup captain Greg Norman using a wild-card pick on a 17-year-old would be less of a shock than him picking Adam Scott? Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, who will be 18 when the competition takes place next month, won for the third time on the Japan Tour on the weekend. He's in good form and knows how to deal with the media, so I can see it. Scott? He's missed the cut in 10-of -18 PGA Tour events this year and has slipped to 53rd in the world. He's just not playing well. Granted, Norman doesn't exactly have a bunch of world beaters from which to choose, but the likes of Rory Sabbatini, K.J. Choi and even Stephen Ames have to be better options than Scott, no? You can weigh in with your thoughts at The Hole Truth blog (blog.canoe.ca/chris).

The last word

It's not often Tiger Woods says anything particularly insightful or close to critical, but he did have a pointed observation about Ernie Els and The Big Easy's work ethic in recovering from ACL surgery: "Ernie is not a big worker physically and that's one of the things you have to do with an ACL injury," Woods told reporters in Boston. "I feel pretty good with what I've done and I think Ernie could have worked a little bit harder." Three years ago, Els said he had a plan to challenge Woods for the No. 1 spot. Woods has alway seemed to take particular delight in rebuffing those who would challenge him. Remember his comeback after dusting Ames, who had correctly pointed out Woods problems with the driver before they met at the Match Play? When asked after the match about Ames' observation, Woods snapped: "Nine and eight." A classic.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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