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Ain't it Funny How Time Slips Away?

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Reminiscing on golf's legends

    "Seems now that it was only yesterday. Gee, ain't it funny how time just slips away."
    As the 72-year-old legend of golf, Arnold Palmer trudged up the 18th fairway at the Masters for the last time, I was reminded of those lyrics in that old Willie Nelson song. Indeed time slides by and in doing so it has a way, in sports as in life, of turning an old nemesis of yesterday into our hero of today.
    The year was 1960. I had driven 800 miles to watch the hero of my youth play in the U.S. Open golf championship being held at the Cherry Hills Golf Course near Denver. No, my hero was not Arnold Palmer; rather he was the great Ben Hogan who, nearing his 50th year, was to make his last strong effort to win an unprecedented fifth U.S. Open title.
    Hogan was a small, quiet gentlemen who struggled for years before winning a big tournament. His determination, desire to win and thousands of hours of patient and precise practice had made him golf's greatest tactician. Only ten years earlier Hogan lay near death, his
body shattered when he and his wife suffered a head-on automobile collision on a foggy Texas morning. The collision between their car and a 19,000-pound bus severely crushed Hogan, who had protectively thrown his body across that of his wife, Valerie, who was virtually uninjured.
    The will to live and play winning golf was so strong in Hogan that he recovered far better than his doctors expected and within a few years was on the tour again, winning four U.S. Opens, two Masters and the British Open. Following that victory, "the wee ice mon," as the Scots and Brits called him, received a ticker tape parade in New York City.
    Ever since I was in the sixth grade Ben Hogan had been my sports hero, and there I was, following him down the fairway at the U.S. Open. On the first day he shot a disappointing 75, then two wonderful rounds of 67 and 69. On the final day Hogan was, incredibly, tied for the lead as he and the other person in his twosome—some kid who had won the U.S. Amateur Championship named Jack Nicklaus—made the turn to the final nine holes.
    As I followed along with the Hogan gallery, we heard the sounds of loud, sudden roars coming from a few holes behind us. Those booming cheers rolled across the tranquil Cherry Hills course like the sounds of cannon fire. It was "Arnie's Army" urging on the young Arnold Palmer who in that final day of the '60 Open had begun what would go down in golfing history as "Palmer's Charge." He had begun the day too far back in the pack to have a chance of
winning and then – six birdies on the first seven holes and "the charge" was on.
    With his rugged charisma, genuine likeability, and oddly off balance swing, Palmer had been changing the game; democratizing it, taking it from a sport played mostly in exclusive country clubs and sharing it with the people like himself, working people from small towns and farms. But to me, on that day, he was an upstart; the new strong kid, challenging my hero.
    I was crestfallen when Palmer's brilliant final round of 65 defeated the aging Mr. Hogan.
    During the 42 years since that day I have often rooted for Palmer but never without remembering my feelings on that difficult afternoon.
    In golf, as in life, time has a way of softening old disappointments, rounding off the hard edges of memory and eventually teaching us to appreciate the talents of those who had, in an earlier time, challenged our favorite heroes—or ideas.
    A few days ago America's golfing fans, including this one, watched misty-eyed as the now aging Mr. Palmer gracefully concluded his final Masters tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course. He was bested, as he had bested Ben Hogan, not only with the aid of
father time, but by the remarkable talents of a newcomer, another young, strong, upstart who will change the game of golf in his time just as Hogan and Palmer did in theirs—Tiger Woods.
    "Gee, ain't it funny how time just slips away!"

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Pat Williams Pat Williams

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