Jay Monahan never said his first priority as PGA Tour commissioner was for every player to be just like Arnold Palmer.
That would be asking for the impossible.
Consider one of the many remarkable stories in Tom Callahan’s book, ”Arnie.” Two men from Chicago, Jeff Roberts and Wally Schneider, were serving in Vietnam and wrote to Palmer seeking help with their bunker shots (when they weren’t shooting from bunkers). Palmer not only replied, he sent two sand wedges and golf balls, along with his sincere wishes for a safe and speedy return.
Roberts went to the Western Open when he got home. He waited for Palmer outside the clubhouse at Olympia Fields and told him that he was one of the soldiers to whom Palmer had sent the sand wedges in Vietnam.
”Are you Jeff or Wally?” Palmer said to him.
Monahan’s eyes lit up when he heard the story Tuesday. His own memories of the King date to 1996 when Monahan was an event planner at EMC and was sent to the Skills Challenge the company sponsored because no one else wanted to go. Palmer was playing for the first time. Monahan was seated next to him.
”He invited me to play his golf course. He made me feel like I was the most important person in the room,” Monahan said. ”I’ll never forget that.”
Nearly two decades later, after Tim Finchem appointed Monahan his deputy commissioner, Finchem took him to see Palmer at his home in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Palmer had a medical issue come up a few days earlier but insisted they not cancel their visit. He spent two hours talking about his competitive days, the formation of the PGA Tour, anything they wanted to know. Monahan went home to Florida and wrote it all down.
He was at Palmer’s memorial service last October, struck by how eight speakers could stitch together a life well played. So when Monahan took over as commissioner in January and met with reporters, the first question was his priority for the year.