Fifty years after he introduced himself to Baltimore with a victory in the Eastern Open at Mount Pleasant Golf Course, Arnold Palmer can still take a golf tournament to another level.
Palmer, whose triumph here in 1956 was only the third of 92 career titles, rarely plays in competitive events anymore, which is why it was such a coup for the organizers of the fourth annual Constellation Energy Classic to lure him into the field for the PGA Champions Tour stop at the Hayfields Country Club on Sept. 15-17.
Constellation Energy CEO Mayo Shattuck, who has been in the news more than he might have liked over the past several weeks, couldn't wait to get to the podium at yesterday's media conference to make the announcement.
"I'm so happy to be here talking about golf instead of what I've been talking about for the last two weeks," said Shattuck, who has been at the center of the controversy over the pending BGE rate hike. "I can remember some of my fondest memories was watching Arnie and Arnie's Army on television with my father."
The CEC raised $827,000 for local charities in 2005, ranking third among Champions Tour events in only its third year, and Palmer's drawing power almost certainly will make it an even more attractive event for golf fans and sponsors.
"Baltimore is pretty special to me," Palmer said. "I had just started on the tour in 1955 and I had had some good fortune, but not overwhelming. I had won a couple of events."
It's only been a half century, but Palmer seemed to remember it like it was yesterday.
"I came to the Eastern Open at [Mount Pleasant] and I was tired," he said. "I was young, but I was tired. I got on the first tee and I was disturbed with my game. And anyone who has played at Mount Pleasant knows there is a road there and that road got my first drive. It was a duck hook and a real beauty. I threw my driver toward my caddy and said, `Put it in the bag, I'm packing.' "
Yes, the great Arnold Palmer almost walked off the course at the first tee, but fellow golfer Doug Ford talked him out of it.
"He said, `C'mon Arnie, everybody knows you can still win this tournament even if you give us all two strokes,' " Palmer remembered. "He reminded me of a couple of things I learned from my father. Don't ever throw a golf club, and I had already done that, and never quit. At one point, I had a 12-shot lead and ended up winning pretty comfortably."
The last time Palmer played in the area was in 2002, when he appeared in the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley. Despite oppressive temperatures, he played well early in the event and made friends in the gallery at every hole.
The last time Palmer played in a tournament was the Wendy's Champions Skins Game in early February, but he and teammate Peter Jacobsen did not bring home any prize money.
The original plan was for Palmer to take part only in the promotion of the CEC, but he agreed to play after spending a day golfing with Shattuck in Florida.
Though Palmer, at 76, has not won a senior event since 1988, he said yesterday that his presence on the course was not going to be ceremonial.
"I'm coming to win it," he said. "If you think I'm coming there with the attitude that I won't win, you're crazy. I may not, but that's what drives me."