I grew up with “Arnie” as a household name. I witnessed his impressive swing far more times than I deserved. And even more impressive, I heard him greet my dad by name year after year. At the news of Arnold Palmer’s passing yesterday, texts and phone calls circulated between our family and friends as if we had lost one of our own.
We all have so many stories of getting to see this legend in his element at the Masters every year, but there’s one in particular that holds a special place in my heart.
Masters week is filled with traditions for players and patrons alike. Just as Arnie joined the Champions for dinner every year on the Tuesday of Masters week, my dad joined one of his most genuine friends, Lance Banninga, for dinner at Calvert’s Restaurant on that same night. This longstanding Augusta fine-dining staple, is a dark-paneled, candlelit charmer serving food so delicious that athletes and celebrities, such as Arnold Palmer, migrate there during Masters week.
Surrounded by family and friends, this elite and infamous dinner is a sacred tradition for Lance and my dad. And while they don’t get to don green jackets or pick a hometown-inspired menu, these two special friends are champions to all who know them. They gather for dinner and discuss their wins and losses, talk strategy and share jokes. Although fully engaged in conversation and storytelling, they always keep a watchful eye on the door. No, they aren’t looking for an exit strategy. Rather, they are hoping for an opportunity to encounter one of the greats. Because every so often, Arnie leaves the Champions Dinner and heads to Calvert’s.
Each year, my dad and Lance come bearing gifts, always seeming to outdo themselves from the year before. In 2011, Lance brought with him two pieces of paper, a Sharpie and the high hopes for an Arnie encounter. As they sat at the table sharing in fellowship and food, in walked opportunity. I’m not even sure how it happened, but by some miracle and the help of a genuine friend, my dad got the approval to approach Arnie at his table. He apologized for interrupting and showed Arnold the two pieces of paper as he said, “I too have a daughter named Amy as do you, and tomorrow my Amy will deliver our first grandchild…Would you be so kind to autograph these?” The King flashed his infamous smile and said, “Of course.” And everyone at his table smiled and congratulated my dad. As my dad walked back to his table, he realized just how special those two pieces of paper were.
Because as my dad sat at Calvert’s for the legendary Tuesday night dinner, I was in Hattiesburg packing my bag for the hospital in preparation for the scheduled delivery of our first child the next day. As much as I wanted my daddy with me on the day his first grandchild was born, I couldn’t keep him from the Masters and cause him to lose his volunteer spot (one that he’d held for 31 years). It was a bit of sacrifice for us all—my dad missing out on Emma Claire’s birth day to be in Augusta, my mom missing out on Masters week traditions to be with me, and me missing out on seeing my dad in his prime as he stood guard over #12.
Knowing that my dad’s heart was likely torn between two places, Lance gave him a gift that brought those two places together. You see, those two pieces of paper contained more than just Arnie’s autograph. They contained the heartfelt forethought of a genuine friend—a grandfather himself—who knew the bittersweet emotions in my dad’s heart as Boppy awaited the arrival of his Golden Bell.
Lance had taken the time to visit my blog and print out copies of pictures of my last ultrasound of Emma Claire and some of the photos from my maternity photoshoot which I had posted a few weeks prior. If that’s not the idea of friendship, I don’t know what is.
So although my dad couldn’t be with me on the eve of Emma Claire’s arrival, he got a gift that will be forever cherished, all because a friend saw the value in two pieces of paper, a Sharpie and the high hopes for an Arnie encounter.
I can’t claim photo credit for this one, but it captures the true essence of Arnie’s hard-charging style and the spirit of those who are part of his Army, including Lance and his son, Steve. The father/son duo was fortunate enough to have a front row seat for Arnie’s shot off the first tee the last time he played at the Masters (Lance is 4th from the right in the blue hat and Steve is 3rd from the right in the pink shirt).
Farewell to the King of Golf.