Thanks to this job I have been served milk and cookies by June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley), gotten a hug from (Mr.) Fred Rogers, and toured a Star Trek exhibit with James Doohan --"Jim Beam me up, Scotty." And then there was the day I wasn't Arnold Palmer.
A couple of years ago I talked with Mr. Palmer (who, sadly, died Sunday at age 87) on a Golf Channel press call -- he asked me to call him "Arnold" (or at least that is how I remember it, and I am sticking to that story). As the Washington reporter covering regulation, Congress and the courts, I had no business on the call, really. I just wanted to talk with Arnold Palmer.
Back in the 1960's, mostly following my father's lead, I was one of those people who rooted against Jack Nicklaus as pretender to "The King's" throne. Eventually I rooted for Jack against his challengers, but in the early days I always wanted Arnie to win every tournament.
So, I queued up in the press call and I got to ask Arnold who would be in his all-time foursome if he could play with anyone. I remember President Eisenhower was one of them, but I don't remember the others -- it is on a transcript somewhere, so it is not lost to history -- because while he was answering I was too busy thinking to myself: "I'm talking to Arnold Palmer."
But that was not my first link to the "King" of the links. That was the day I wasn't Arnold Palmer.
The channel was only a couple of years old, I think, when I got a phone call from someone there late on a Friday afternoon asking if I would like to play in a tournament they were sponsoring the following Sunday out in California -- I think it was at an NCTA convention -- in a foursome with Joe Gibbs.
I was planning on going anyway, though I would now have to play hooky from press room set-up. But as a lifelong Washington football fan, I jumped at the chance. (I also got to "play football" against Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer early in my career, but that's another story.)
When I got to the course for the tournament, I was introduced to Joe Gibbs, a great guy and co-founder of The Golf Channel, but not the football coach I had, in my ignorance, been expecting to play with. My face might have fallen a bit, though I hope not.
Joe and I walked to the tee to meet up with the other members of our foursome -- a couple of captains of industry. When they saw me, their faces looked as though they had taken a sip of what they thought was going to be an Arnold Palmer and got milk instead.
At the turn I ducked into the clubhouse and asked the Golf Channel representative who had offered me the spot why my fellow players had seemed so disappointed when they saw me coming, particularly since they hadn't seen me play -- I love golf, but it doesn't love me. It was only then that she, rather sheepishly, revealed that the reason for my last-minute invite was because the original fourth player couldn't make it: Golf Channel co-founder Arnold Palmer.
I suddenly felt that my outing partners had shown great restraint in not weeping uncontrollably at the sight of me.
I have some lemonade in the fridge. I think I will go add a spoonful of iced tea mix to a glass and raise a toast (in fact, I just did) to one of the great men, and gentlemen, in the history of professional sports.