It was an honour to play in last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and pay homage to the great man.
This has always been one of my favourite tournaments of the year, having been invited by Mr Palmer to first play there in 1993, and I’ve been blessed to win it twice. As I’ve said before, receiving the trophy from Mr Palmer on the 18th green there at Bay Hill will always remain one of the highlights of my career.
Celebrating the legacy of one of golf’s true legends was obviously the big focus of last week’s tournament and I think everyone involved should be congratulated on the manner in which that was achieved. There were some lovely tributes and initiatives taking place all around the property, including a powerful new bronze statue of Mr Palmer overlooking the 1st and 10th tees. His distinctive umbrella logo was on show everywhere and, indeed, a lot of the players wore it on their clothing, including the Palmer pin, which was a really nice touch.
I thought it was wonderful also that the R&A had arranged for the iconic Claret Jug to be out on display, celebrating Mr Palmer’s back-to-back victories in The Open in 1961 and 1962. It’s impossible to under-estimate the impact he had on that championship. I’m sure there’ll be more celebrations to come of Mr Palmer’s life, not least when we return to Royal Birkdale for the Open this summer. That’s where he won his first Open title and there’s still a plaque on the 16th hole commemorating his unbelievable shot from the base of a bush by the side of the fairway. That one, mighty strike sums up the way Mr Palmer played the game. What a man!
Anyway, big congrats to Marc Leishman on a superb win at Bay Hill. As many people will know, Marc and his wife Audrey have endured some tough times off the golf course the last couple of years, so this win will feel very sweet. Everyone on the PGA TOUR will be pleased for him and his family. For me…well, it wasn’t my week. This golf course is never easy, but I think this year it maybe played as good it’s ever been and if you weren’t on top of your game, the golf course won.
So, on to other news. As you may have read, last week we played the ninth Annual Wine Spectator & Cigar Aficionado Els for Autism Pro Am at Old Palm Golf Club here in Florida (pictured below). As in previous years, we were blessed to have the support of an amazing line-up of players, including: Jack Nicklaus, Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Alex Cejka, Andrew Johnston, Brooks Koepka, Branden Grace, Bryson DeChambeau, Camilo Villegas, Cameron Tringale, Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Ian Baker-Finch, Jamie Lovemark, Ken Duke, Keegan Bradley, KJ Choi, Kyle Reifers, Thomas Aiken and Tony Finau. Thank you all.
Huge thanks also to the amateurs who took part, to our hosts at Old Palm Golf Club, our partners, sponsors, and in particular to Marvin R. Shanken of Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator magazines. Marvin was the inspiration behind this event and remains one of its driving forces. He was also on the winning team, alongside Branden Grace, Rush Limbaugh and Mayor Giuliani. Well played guys. A special mention also to Jack Nicklaus who shot a 71, beating his age by six shots!
By the end of the day we were proud to say that this year’s Pro Am ‘family’ had raised over $1 million, which brings the fundraising total to around the $10 million mark since the event’s inception in 2009. This money is already working hard making a positive difference to the lives of individuals and families on the autism spectrum. You can read more about our work and the ground-breaking initiatives we’ve introduced at The Els Center of Excellence by visiting the website: www.elsforautism.org.
So, moving on to this week. I took part in a golf day on Monday in Las Vegas with my good friends at SAP, which as always was a lot of fun. Nice to also register my 14th hole-in-one! Now I have the rest of the week off at home and, as I said before, that gives me time to block-out distractions and just work hard on my game heading into next week’s Shell Houston Open. That is a wonderful tournament in its own right but also, due to the way they set-up that golf course, it represents the perfect prep for the Masters.
In the meantime, follow me on Twitter @TheBig_Easy.