Thursday, September 10, 2009

Arnie at 80: A Father's Lessons

Today is Arnold Palmer's 80th birthday. There is a Directors & Boards angle to this. We had Arnold Palmer in our pages 25 years ago, when then-Publisher Milton Rock visited with Palmer to get the champion to talk about how business and golf made for a winning match-up on and off the fairway.

Here is a piece of that article that seems appropriate to revisit on a milestone day like today — Palmer paying tribute to his father for being such a profound influence in his life and in the success he achieved as a golfer and businessman. Listen in:

"My father was never formally educated past the eighth grade. He came to Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which is still my home, as a paper boy and a mail carrier in the local steel mills. He got a job at the golf club, that I now own, because of his politeness and his willingness to work very hard from the time he was 16 years old. He was at the club as the course superintendent and pro until he died at 71.

"This club was put together by a group of probably the most sophisticated small-town businessmen in the world. Latrobe at the time was one of the richest small business communities in the world, with coal and steel and aluminum, a brick business, railroads, rubber, glass, and wool mills. The people who ran those businesses played golf and were literally my father's bosses.

"My father learned from them how to eat with proper etiquette and have good manners. The more he learned at the country club the more he brought it home and literally pounded it into his children. He was almost obsessed by the desire to have us learn proper ways. Being the oldest, I got the brunt of it. He gave me many lessons in how to act in front of businessmen and how to keep my mouth shut and listen rather than talking all the time.

"At the same time, I had enough awe at a young age to watch the businessmen and see how they conducted themselves. I wanted to know if my father was really right in telling me that I had to hold a knife and a fork in a certain way, and that I had to use a napkin properly and do things in accordance with the manners and tradition that were a big part of a country club.

"I think that was a tremendous advantage to me. I not only learned, but I remembered it because my father was a very tough man. He was strict, and he was great."

The son became someone deserving of being called "great" himself. Happy birthday, young man.
[Photo: Golf Digest]