CHASKA, United States: Two-time major winner Jordan Spieth says the US Ryder Cup team is looking to pay tribute to Arnold Palmer this week after his death and bringing home the trophy would certainly qualify.
The Americans have lost three in a row, six of seven and eight of the past 10 Ryder Cup showdowns to Europe ahead of Friday’s start of the 41st biennial matches at Hazeltine.
“As Team USA, we’re all looking to do something to honor him this week,” Spieth said. “We all learned a lot from him. We would not be who we are on and off the course if it were not for him.”
The US flag flies at half staff over the suburban Minneapolis course to pay homage to Palmer, who died Sunday at age 87 of heart issues.
Palmer was the first superstar of American golf, the first true celebrity sportsman. He attracted passionate supporters known as Arnie’s Army and lifted golf into the television age and beyond, serving as an inspiration to many of today’s top stars.
“He was the first cool guy to play golf,” said US Ryder Cup player Jimmy Walker. “Nobody did anything more for golf than Arnie did. He was one of the greatest personalities in golf ever. He had a love for the game. It showed to the end.”
Black and white video highlights of Palmer in his prime, a US sports-TV staple since his death, fail to capture the go-for-broke style that made him popular or the fan-friendly manner and charm that made the seven-time major winner iconic for how he played in addition to how well he played.
“All athletes owe him a debt. He paved the way for us,” Spieth said. “He was a role model and golf’s greatest friend. I still think it’s underrated how much he contributed to golf. This will be a tough loss for golf going forward.”
Reactions from those trying to work on their putting on a windy Monday at Hazeltine were grief-filled.
“It’s just sadness,” two-time major winner Zach Johnson said. “He was such a great person. I don’t believe you can quantify or put into words what he has done for golf.”
Europe star Lee Westwood of England put it in simple terms: “Professional golf is what it is today because of Arnold.”
Made difficult look easy
Palmer set a standard for himself to give back to the people who paid to come watch him, whether with a smile or personal attention. An autograph, a handshake or just a moment of his attention made him the role model some could immitate but none could duplicate, even today’s most beloved shotmakers.
“We all try but we never live up to his standard,” five-time major winner Phil Mickelson said. “He made the difficult look easy.”
Spieth, 23, was born in 1993, the same year Palmer collected his last tour victory of any sort at the Champions Tour Skins Game. But Palmer was able to pass along lessons about golf and life to the younger stars.
“He’s just a man who has inspired me personally,” said Spieth, who shared the locker Palmer uses in the Augusta National Champions Locker room.
“I don’t feel worthy. He should have his own. I feel very fortunate to have something in common with him.”
Europe Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke said both teams are preparing to honor Palmer both with a worn emblem as well as their performances.
“Whatever happens this week, it will be another great chapter in Ryder Cup history,” he said. “And one that honors Mr. Palmer.”