Arnold Palmer, left, and Bob Green, the head professional at Tedesco Country Club, pose for a photo during the first round of a PGA Senior Tournament at Nashawtuc Country Club in 2000. | PHOTO: Courtesy of Bob Green
BY STEVE KRAUSE
Imagine you’re teamed up with Arnold Palmer at a PGA Senior tournament.
You’re a club pro. He’s the five-star general of Arnie’s Army. And you’re walking 18 holes with him, trading stories and drinking in the aura that made Palmer, who died Sept. 24, such a charismatic, transcendent figure in golf.
That’s how Bob Green felt in August of 2000 when, after receiving a sponsor’s exemption to play in a senior tournament at Nashawtuc Country Club in Concord, he found himself paired with Palmer in the first round.
“It was kind of a regular stop for him,” said Green. “His financial adviser (Dick Connolly) is from up this way, and he’d come up to see him and golf in the tournament, which was one of the regular stops on the senior tour — which is now called the Champions Tour.”
Green, longtime club pro at Tedesco, said it was the highlight of his professional life.
If you were to ask me, from the time I was 12 years old right on up through yesterday, who’s the one guy I’d like to play a round of golf with, someone who wasn’t family, the answer would be Arnold Palmer, and I got that opportunity.”
And, said Green, he got to see Palmer at his best, not only on the course, but in his dealings with the people he was playing with and the fans.
What impressed Green, who had received a sponsor’s exemption to compete, the most is how Palmer related to his son, Brian, who caddied for him.
“My son grew up in a generation when Arnold was past his prime,” Green said. “But to be able to spend five hours with him in a competitive situation was really an incredible experience, both for Brian and for me.”
Green said the day he played with Palmer was during a stretch where “he was really struggling,” said Green. “But he shot a 68 that day. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.”
What made the round so memorable for Green is that on the 14th hole, he’d three-putted and said to his caddie, ‘we have to make that up.’”
Green said there had to be 10,000 people on the course by the time they hit the back nine, and the buzz was electric.
“On the 15th,” Green said, “he holed a 9-iron shot for an eagle, and the noise from the crowd was deafening.” The crowd grew from there, Green said.
“We were walking from the 16th green to the 17th hole, which was up a little hill, and on both sides there were fans cheering and screaming. We got up onto the tee and looked out, and there were bleachers all around us. The place just exploded. I turned to my son and said this must be what it’s like to play in the Rose Bowl.”
Green said Palmer’s skills as a golfer were only part of his appeal. The rest had to do with the flair with which he played, the risks he took and his uncanny way of connecting with his fans.
Palmer is credited with having golf being strictly a country club activity to being a full-fledged spectator sport suitable for television. Green agrees with that.
“He did so many things for golf,” Green said. “Just by his personality, and his charisma, and his incredible talent.
“And the way he played!” Green said. “He had that swashbuckling, risk-taking competitive fire. He’d flash that smile, and that personality.”
And it was all on display the day they played together, Green said.
“He had a way of making eye contact with the fans in the gallery,” Green said. “He interacted. It was unbelievable. That’s not an act. That was him. Nobody could act that way for 50 years if it was an act.”
Green said Palmer also had good timing in that he came along just when television was coming into its own.
“Here was this personality that was bigger than life,” he said. “And he had an incredible game. He wasn’t the standard-issue golf pro of the era. He was Arnold Palmer, hitching up those pants, with the cigarette, slashing the ball and hitting it all over the place.”
Both on the course and off, Palmer “was as regular a guy as you could get,” Green said. “He was a very good conversationalist. You know, he tried to put me at ease too because I was as nervous as I’ve ever been on a golf course. He was great with Brian during the round, and he treated me as if I was a longtime veteran on the PGA tour. It was really a thrill.”
Green said it was very unusual to be paired with someone of Palmer’s caliber. A year later, he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open and played in a group with an amateur from Florida and a driving range pro from the Northwest.
“(Palmer) was a real gentleman,” said Green. “I tell everyone that he was even better than advertised.
“I think that day was one of the last really good rounds he had,” Green said. “He was just about to turn 71 at the time. He struggled a lot more going forward, but for me, it was such a thrill to golf with him, and to be there to see him have such a great round.”