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October 2, 2016

Though I am not a golfer, the death of Arnold Palmer last Sunday gave me reason to reflect on the life of an extraordinary man. When I was a college student at Furman University, Palmer was in his prime. He was named Athlete of the Decade for the 1960s.

In 1973, Clare and I moved our family to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Palmer had attended Wake Forest College on a golf scholarship before beginning his professional career. He was revered by the good folks of North Carolina.

Arnold Palmer was the first golfer to surpass $1 million in earnings. That accomplishment is remarkable because his biggest tourney win earned $50,000.

In 2004 Palmer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. He reportedly gave the commander-in-chief a few golf tips in the East Room of the White House.

Eight years later he was given the Congressional Gold Medal. On that occasion Palmer thanked the members of the House and the Senate for being able to agree on something.

After receiving these two highest civilian awards given in the United States, Palmer signed autographs for hundreds of people. That was his uniqueness. Arnold Palmer connected with people of all ages, blue-collar workers and white-collar politicians.

Arnold Palmer died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at age 87. A report in USA Today described him well.

Palmer was the accessible common man who would become the King and lead his own army. Along the way he became one of the sport’s best players and a successful businessman, philanthropist, trailblazing advertising spokesman, talented golf course designer, and experienced aviator.

Clare and I have good friends who are avid golf fans. The shared with us an experience they had with Arnold Palmer.

On Thursday, April 5, 2007, Arnold Palmer hit the first shot of the Masters Golf Tournament. The four-time champion at Augusta, one of the great legends in the history of the Masters, agreed to serve as the honorary starter for that year’s Tournament. He became the first honorary starter since Sam Snead in 2002. When asked if he would be intimidated by hitting the first shot, Palmer replied, “No, I think I’ll just let it go wherever it goes.”

Arnie played in 50 consecutive tournaments at the Augusta National Course, ending his streak in 2005. His victory in 1958 began the tradition of the Amen Corner, a name for the 11th, 12th, and 13th holes. The way Arnie played those three holes on the final day of the Masters was nothing short of a miracle. A writer for Sports Illustrated coined the term, Amen Corner, for the three holes.

In an interview before the 2007 Masters, Palmer recalled 1955, his first Masters. He tied for 10th place, but he said he would always remember the experience of playing alongside Gene Sarazen who hit the famous shot heard ’round the world to win the 1935 Masters.

Bobby Jones, a Georgia native and gentleman golfer, was largely responsible for the beginning of the Masters, an annual event since 1934. For those who live near Augusta, the Masters is a highlight of the year.

Our good friend Carol Anne Bostick is a native of North Augusta, South Carolina, just across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. Tickets to the Masters are difficult to obtain, but that has not always been the case. Carol Anne explained, “In the 1930s, there was a big glass jar filled with Masters tickets at the Georgia Railroad Bank and Trust Company. Anyone could take as many as they wanted. In fact, they almost begged people to take a ticket to be in the gallery. By the early 1950s, demand for Masters tickets had increased, and season tickets were available for purchase. If your name was on the patrons list, you automatically got tickets every year. My mother’s name was on the list. Every year we went to the Masters as a family outing.”

In 1954, Carol Anne, at seven years of age, attended her first Masters with her mother, June Blandenburg.

In 1968, the allotment of tickets to many of the local patrons was reduced to two. Mrs. Blandenburg continued to receive her two tickets each year, but family members had to take turns going to the fabled golf tournament. When June Blandenburg died in 2004, at age 87, the family lost the use of her Masters tickets. When a person on the Masters ticket list dies, the privilege of purchasing tickets does not pass to their heirs. 2004 was the last year the Bosticks attended the Masters.

Carol Anne has kept a scrapbook through the years. She was an original member of Arnie’s Army, the large crowd of fans who followed Palmer around the golf course. Carol Anne’s treasures include a picture taken in 1960 of Arnold Palmer before he won his second Masters. She has a 1978 poster of Arnie that she got at a barbecue dinner.

In 1980, Carol Anne and her husband, Carl, happened to be in the right place at the right time. Cadillac was filming a television commercial featuring Arnold Palmer. The director needed a few extras for the advertisement. Carol Anne and Carl were chosen from those following Arnie around the Augusta National.

Perhaps the most prized item of memorabilia in Carol Anne’s collection is an antique Arnie’s Army button. In March of 2007 year, she wore it to The Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament at the Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando, Florida. Carol Anne and Carl arrived on Wednesday for the Pro-Am day. The event is designed to raise funds for the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital and for the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Of course, the Bosticks followed Arnie as he played his round. In the foursome with Arnie were former Homeland Security Director, Tom Ridge, and Ed Willett, Senior Director for Business Development at ESPN, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

Wearing her original Arnie’s Army button and carrying her 1978 poster, Carol Anne stood out in the crowd. Somewhere on the back nine, Ed Willett noticed and engaged her in conversation. Carol Anne explained that she hoped to have Arnold Palmer sign her poster. At the 18th tee, Ed called Arnie over, and the white-haired champion autographed his picture on the vintage barbecue ad. The ESPN executive took several photographs of Carol Anne, Carl, and Arnie using Carl’s camera.

Later, the Bosticks met Janet Hulcher, Arnold Palmer’s Executive Assistant. Janet offered to take Carol Anne’s scrapbook to Arnie so he could sign the 1960 snapshot. All in all, it was a banner day for our favorite Arnold Palmer fan!

On Thursday April 5, 2007, golf fans saw Arnie hit one more shot at the Masters. Wearing a sky blue sweater against the morning chill, the then 77-year-old Palmer took a driver to the 1st tee. He hammered the ball, driving it down the middle of the fairway just as he did so many times before.  Arnold Palmer is still a champion and he is King.

Just ask Carol Anne Bostick.

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