2 months after surgery, Palmer back in swing Legend will return today to compete in his tourney

March 20, 1997|By ORLANDO SENTINEL

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Disregard what the calendar shows. Springtime officially begins at 9: 50 a.m. today when Arnold Palmer will wink to an appreciative crowd on his way from Bay Hill's practice green to the first tee, tip his straw hat a few times, and then step up, hitch the trousers, and rip a low liner somewhere down the fairway.

When Palmer's golf ball leaves his tee, the planets and stars in the golf universe will be in proper order once again.

Palmer, 67, will be playing competitively for the first time since having surgery for prostate cancer Jan. 15 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., just hoping to fit in among his younger competitors at the Bay Hill Invitational, a tournament he has helped to build into one of the premier stops on the PGA Tour.

For Palmer, the man whose charging, swashbuckling style delivered popularity and prominence to the game in the 1950s and '60s, this is anything but some half-hearted, token farewell ceremony. Anybody who knows his stubborn ways knows he is playing with one thing on his mind.

Two rounds and a goodbye wave tomorrow just won't do.

"My goals, as far as playing, are the same as they always were," Palmer said. "If I play in a golf tournament, I'm still foolish enough to think that I can win."

Nearly a quarter-century has passed since Palmer won his last event, his 60th, on the PGA Tour, and it has been eight years

since he last won as a senior. But the grace and charm and royal touch that Palmer brings to the game is timeless, and remains unmatched.

The eight-plus weeks since the surgery have been trying for Palmer. For three weeks, he was rendered virtually inactive, and there were physical inconveniences.

"I had a lot of medical things hooked in me, on me, and around me. Drains, all kinds of things," he said. "That makes you slow up a little bit and think about a lot of things."

Palmer's doctor told him that he needed to rest for 42 days after his surgery. Care to guess where Palmer was on Day 43? He was back on the golf course at Bay Hill, and the past few weeks he slowly has been building his stamina to be ready for the tournament. Before heading to Isleworth yesterday to play with tournament sponsors, Palmer had played 14 times since Feb. 27.

Palmer said if his health permits and his stamina returns, he would like to return to playing senior events on a regular basis, mixing in an occasional stop on the younger tour at tournaments such as the Bob Hope Classic and The Masters, as well as Bay Hill, his winter home for the better part of three decades.

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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