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A Golfer’s Bucket List

One of the best stories you’ve never heard about Arnold Palmer

by CJ Lotz

May 9, 2017

When the golf writer James Dodson was a thirteen-year-old kid from Greensboro, North Carolina, and just starting to get into the game, he wrote a list of goals he hoped to achieve. Now in his sixties, Dodson recently discovered that list and realized he had indeed checked off many of the items, such as “get new clubs” and “live for a time in Pinehurst, North Carolina.”

photo: Frank Pierce

Author James Dodson.

“I’m an everyman who has been able to find characters and write about the real game of golf,” says Dodson, who is the author of eleven books, including the beloved father-son golf classic, Final Rounds. His newest, The Range Bucket List: The Golf Adventure of a Lifetime, out Tuesday, May 9, chronicles his life checking off golf goals and adding new ones. Along the way, it also shares behind-the-scenes stories and intimate details from such golf greats as Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer. Not only had Dodson met Palmer, as he had hoped as a kid, he co-wrote Palmer’s memoirs, the bestselling A Golfer’s Life, and remained close friends with Palmer until his death in 2016.

In the following excerpt from The Range Bucket List, Dodson shares a little-known story about Palmer, the pro’s archrivals Nicklaus and North Carolina amateur Harvie Ward, and how Arnie beat out everyone to win the hand of a young woman named Winnie.

Photo: U.S. Coast Guard – Arnold Palmer in 1953

 

An exclusive excerpt from The Range Bucket List by James Dodson

 

Whenever I give an evening talk, I’m always asked to tell stories about my time with Arnold and Winnie Palmer. Some people simply want to know what the King of Golf was really like.

“He’s exactly like he appears,” I like to say, channeling Winnie. “Only better.”

That said, I have a few funny little stories about my time with Arnold and Winnie that I would like to share.

Early one morning in Arnie’s Latrobe workshop (where an entire wall was covered with racks of putters), I casually asked my subject a question almost every golfer wants to know the answer to: What did Arnold really think of Jack Nicklaus?

“Is he the man you feared most?” I asked.

Arnie was regripping a Callaway driver. He shook his head. “Nope. That distinction belonged to Harvie Ward.”

“Really?” I was deeply surprised to hear this, and eager to know more. Harvie and Arnold were rivals during their college years at Carolina and Wake Forest, respectively, but Jack was the man who, in effect, dethroned Arnold on the Tour by beating him before a hometown crowd at the Open at Oakmont in 1962—not the first championship Arnold’s short game allowed to slip through his fingers.

“That’s right,” Arnold said. “I could never seem to beat Harvie when it mattered in college. That, plus he was so good-looking and smooth with the ladies I always felt outgunned.” He glanced at me and added, “Fortunately, I beat him when it counted the most—with Winnie.”

Photo: Howdy Giles – Winnie and Arnold Palmer

 

Weeks after winning the National Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Detroit in 1954, Arnold was invited to Shawnee on Delaware to play in bandleader Fred Waring’s popular Waite Memorial golf tournament. In the lobby of the rustic Shawnee Inn after his first practice round, he met pretty Winifred Walzer, who was working as a tournament hostess for the week. He invited her to come out and watch him play golf. She was so refined and polished that he assumed she must be a rich girl from Philadelphia’s Main Line. In fact, she was the bright, levelheaded, no-nonsense daughter of a Bethlehem canned goods salesman named Shube Walzer. The next day Arnold spotted Winifred on the course and invited her to sit with him at that evening’s dinner dance; she agreed. “I’d never met anyone like her. She was smart, beautiful, and independent, and studied interior design at Brown University. She was even something of a social rebel, who had no interest in being a debutante.”

When he heard that she’d been out with his smooth-talking nemesis, Harvie Ward, once already that week, and that Harvie had asked for a second date, a bold plan formed in Arnold’s mind.

“On Friday night, at our second dinner together, I reached under the table and found Winnie’s hand and asked what she would say if I asked her to marry me. She looked startled and asked if she could have a day to think about it. I told her, ‘Not too long. I’ve got places to go. We can use the Walker Cup for our honeymoon.’”

The next day, she agreed to marry him. Word quickly leaked out. Days later, Arnold won enough cash in a $20 Nassau money match at Pine Valley against four of his regular golf pals from Cleveland to purchase a proper engagement ring.

“And that’s how I won Winnie’s hand and finally beat Harvie Ward,” Arnold declared.

Photo: Howdy Giles – Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in the 1990s.

 

“So what do you really feel about Jack Nicklaus?” I pressed him.

He thought for a moment, then set aside the club and picked up the morning edition of the Pittsburgh newspaper.

“Fair enough,” he said, winking. “Let me go take my morning Nicklaus, and I’ll come back and tell you exactly what I really think of Jack.”

I was still smiling when he came back a few minutes later.

This time he wasn’t joking. “Jack is, without doubt, the greatest player ever. His record stands alone and proves that. He’s also a very good friend, and a great friend to golf in general. Winnie and Barbara Nicklaus, as you know, are almost best buddies. Jack and I share a passion for this game that goes way beyond our accomplishments. Beyond this, in a purely competitive sense, we needed each other. We made each other better players—and people. Jack is an outstanding man, and a great ambassador for the game.”

With that, he winked impishly. “And I can tell you some pretty wild stories about Jack, if you’re interested . . .”

 

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