In 1972, Larry King began to scribble down his thoughts on golf as he started to progress as a professional golfer.
The result was a collection of essays, recording a memorable passage on his favourite player, Arnold Palmer, that even won him plenty of friends and admiration from golf’s greats, including Tiger Woods.
“It’s an exciting sight, and a rarity, to see an athlete play the sport with such combination of dependability and finesse. The player I think has a special feel for the game, one that stems directly from his childhood in the golf course,” King wrote.
At that time, King, now a broadcaster on US golf and tennis networks and the publisher of numerous books, had finally qualified to play regularly on the PGA Tour. Palmer had won the Open the previous year and already led the money list, King being recognised as a prize-winning amateur himself.
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For King, however, there were no official invites or sponsor’s tees. Instead, he faced a series of qualifying events that he saw as his route to recognising Palmer in another way.
“Because of some unforeseen complications, I was left with only about three weeks to adjust to the game, and I began to watch in awe what I later came to call ‘Arnie’s Army’. And they made me feel better about the game, to see how they went about their job.”
Palmer was at the forefront of the golf revolution that swept through the sport in the 1960s, before taking it into the house-party spirit of the 80s. A marked contrast to the staid, traditional competitions of King’s college days, when there was no introduction of a sports drink before teeing off, Palmer was embraced as a modern day Brandt Snedeker, the “American Journeyman”.
“I had several moments of self-doubt,” King wrote of the early days of Palmer’s fame. “Some of my most poignant memories stem from an exam just weeks after my pro debut. I was in an exam with a professor whom I would never meet again.
“While the other students had one hour and three minutes to think of something, I was going to a specialist for three days of what was called ‘practical wisdom’. I came up with something very simple. Golf always has been my favourite sport and I thought ‘I should do something about that.’ So I talked myself into studying until midnight in preparation for my exam the next day. That night, I tried to write down my answers but found that the lines on my fingers were getting blurred and unfocused. I explained to my mother that I would rather get an R than a B-minus for my study time.”
It was that same mother who initially turned King away from golf – because she feared he would disappoint her – but after the journalist and TV host adapted to the game, she adjusted her opinion of him.
“My mother had persuaded me to play golf for three hours a day, six days a week,” King wrote. “I was making the most of it, but she was asking me to sacrifice so much. I was talking to her and said I would do what was best for me. That was the first time my mother let go of all the false expectations and started to see the real me. It was also the last time she heard my voice.”
The golfer and the broadcaster became golf’s most acclaimed pair, and King – now known for his opening monologue on his ESPN show King of Sports – went on to win nearly $3m in prize money.
As the millennium dawned, golf roared back into the mainstream, as broadcasters across America raced to accommodate sponsors who wanted to put their product on the covers of magazines such as Golf Digest and GQ.
King was among the many to see the writing on the wall, and in 2001 he brought down the curtain on his televised stint in golf.
After describing the golfer as the “Rain Man of golf”, King’s own mind is clear in the most important respect: “I did it my way and it worked.”