In Appreciation of Arnold Palmer

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While scanning golf blog headlines today, I came across the news that it was Arnold Palmer’s birthday on Tuesday. He turned 84.

Being a Generation X’r, Arnie’s competitive achievements came before my time, but I’m very aware of his accomplishments and his enormous impact. As a golfer, I’ve most personally felt Palmer’s continuing influence on the game by playing his courses, including Aviara, the only Palmer-designed course in San Diego County.

I most consistently experience Palmer, however, through two TV spots he’s done, one being his voiceover for the “Swing Your Swing” Dick’s Sports Goods Commercial that first appeared this year. The other is the iconic “This is SportsCenter” commercial he filmed in 2009 that still appears regularly, with good reason. I think it’s the best one that has ever been done.

One clip makes me laugh and the other inspires me immensely. As a writer, I’m incredibly creatively envious and inspired by both.

If you’re not familiar with either, let’s do a little recap, starting with the ESPN piece.

The clip is part of a series the network has done for decades that hilariously spoofs life at ESPN by pretending the entire sports world takes up residence in its Bristol, Conn., headquarters, which in a way it kind of does.

The commercial shows Palmer and his caddie walking through ESPN’s cafeteria being trailed by two tray-carrying SportsCenter anchors, Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt. In awe, the two men watch as Palmer prepares his namesake beverage, the Arnold Palmer.

Palmer mixes a little iced tea and a little lemonade and finishes it off with a little more tea before exiting the cafeteria with his club-carrying caddy in tow.

Watching Palmer walk away, Van Pelt utters, in a hushed voice, “That was awesome.”

Scott whispers back, “I know.”

The beauty is in the simplicity. Palmer simply has to be Palmer, and he’s brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out. Check it out.

I have a friend who works at ESPN who posted the day of Palmer’s visit that an alternate clip was filmed. The film crew asked Palmer to chip a golf ball into an Arnold Palmer, and he did it – in one take.

That’s quite a hole-in-one, but he certainly aced the cafeteria scene as well.

“Swing Your Swing” evokes very different emotions in me and impresses me on a whole other scale.

If you haven’t seen it, again, let’s recap. As a montage of golfers swinging scrolls – including one of a cook in a kitchen – Palmer does a voiceover that basically pays homage to golfers everywhere. The script he reads comes across as a heartfelt appreciation for everyone who has ever picked up a golf club, so much so that you quickly forget it’s a commercial.

I remember the first time I ever saw this commercial on the Golf Channel and it stopped me in my tracks. I hit rewind about 10 times to take it all in. If you’ve never taken a moment to appreciate the words, here’s the script.

Swing Your swing…

Not some idea of a swing.

Not a swing you saw on TV.

Not that swing you wish you had.

NO … swing Your swing.

Capable of greatness.

Prized only by you

Perfect in its imperfection.

Swing your swing …

I know … I did.

 

         As the last line is delivered, a clip plays of Palmer swinging in his prime … swing-from-the-heels approach, held-off finish and all. Classic Arnie. And a true original. Check it out.

To me the script is pure poetry and speaks to everyone who’s ever dared to pick up a club and experienced the frustrations of trying to learn this crazy game – and forges ahead regardless.

As one of the many who used to have one of those self-made swings, and, to some degree, probably still does, I relate. As a golfer and writer, “perfect in its imperfection” brings it home for me in the commercial. Eventually, aren’t they all? As Roy McAvoy said in Tin Cup, when it comes to the golf swing, “perfect (is) unattainable.”

But if you’re really a golfer, that never stops you from trying.

So swing your swing, and while you’re at have an Arnold Palmer and toast the man’s continuing contributions to this great game. Happy birthday, Mr. Palmer.

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