Jason Day was the last victor at Bay Hill to be greeted by Arnold Palmer beside the 18th hole; Marc Leishman the first champion following the passing of ‘The King’ on September 25, 2016 at the age of 87.
Revered throughout the world of golf for not only the way he played but the daring and flair in which he did it, Palmer developed a special affinity with Australian golf.
Kel Nagle’s 1960 British Open triumph was all the more noteworthy for the man he had to best to claim the Claret Jug, Palmer exacting some form of revenge by finishing five strokes clear of Nagle in winning the 1966 Australian Open at Royal Queensland.
A regular visitor to Australian shores throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Palmer returned for the Centenary Australian Open in 2004 and brought with him that famous aura that garnered an avid army of followers during his career.
First as the Bay Hill Invitational and later the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the tournament that carries his name will feature five Australians this week all eager to create their own piece of history in connection with the Palmer name.
Leishman was victorious at Bay Hill in 2017 and was last year named the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational Ambassador before going on to finish second behind Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, carrying forward Palmer’s legacy in the way he lives his own life.
“I’ve looked up to Mr Palmer my whole life, yes, for all his achievements, on and off the golf course, but probably mostly for the way he lived his life and the way he treated other people,” said Leishman, who will play alongside Charles Howell III and Brian Gay over the first two rounds.
“And that’s something that I’ve really tried to do as well, try and be like him. They say ‘a life well played’ because he lived his life to the fullest.
“I feel like if you can be a good dad, good husband, good person, play some good golf along the way, enjoy yourself, enjoy a few beers, enjoy some good food, I feel like that’s a life well played and that’s how he lived his life.”
Although he didn’t have the opportunity to see Palmer in his prime, 2016 champion Jason Day clearly understands the magnitude of how Palmer influenced the game.
“The biggest thing is the impact that he left on the generation after him which impacted the generation after them and then impacted us,” said Day, who will begin his first round at 4.57am AEDT on Friday grouped with Viktor Hovland and Rickie Fowler.
“Without his innovation to the game with how he was on the golf course and how he was off the golf course, giving back to charity and how giving he was, there may not be a Greg Norman or a (Nick) Faldo or Seve (Ballesteros).
“There may not be a Tiger Woods or a Phil Mickelson and may not be a Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, myself or Rickie Fowler.
“Without influential people such as the King, there may be a few less golfers in this world today because he did have a huge impact on how people looked at golf.
“Arnold Palmer made golf sexy.
“To be able to win and have that celebratory drink with him and being the last person to be able to do that is a special honour.”
When Rod Pampling was greeted by Palmer in the wake of the 2006 Bay Hill Invitational both were still in a state of shock from what had transpired just moments earlier.
Englishman Greg Owen’s three-putt from three feet on the 71st hole and then vicious horseshoe on the final hole that prevented the requirement of a playoff saw Pampling finish one stroke clear and a meeting with Palmer.
“He looked at me and just sort of went, ‘Wow’, and that was exactly what I said back to him,” said Pampling.
“It’s one of those deals, you don’t know what to say at the end there after seeing that.
“Obviously he’s a legend, legend in the game. They don’t come much bigger than Arnold.
“To win his tournament, to have a trophy with his name on it, it’s very special.”
Round 1 tee times AEDT
Arnold Palmer Invitational
Bay Hill Club and Lodge, Orlando, Florida
11.44pm* Marc Leishman, Brian Gay, Charles Howell III
12.28am* Cameron Davis, Louis Oosthuizen, Denny McCarthy
12.39am* Cameron Percy, Peter Malnati, John Huh
4.02am Matt Jones, Charley Hoffman, Lee Westwood
4.02am* Danny Lee, Anirban Lahiri, Doug Ghim
4.57am Jason Day, Viktor Hovland, Rickie Fowler
Defending champion: Tyrrell Hatton
Past Aussie winners: Rod Pampling (2006), Jason Day (2016), Marc Leishman (2017)
Top Aussie prediction: Jason Day
TV schedule: Live 6am-10am Friday, Saturday; Live 4.30am-10am Sunday, Monday on Fox Sports 503.
LPGA Drive On Championship
Golden Ocala Golf Club, Ocala, Florida
11.05pm Katherine Kirk, Jennifer Song, Annie Park
12.22am* Sarah Kemp, Mina Harigae, Jiwon Jeon
3.41am Sarah Jane Smith, Lindy Duncan, Mariah Stackhouse
4.36am Lydia Ko, Ally Ewing, Lexi Thompson
Defending champion: Inaugural event
Past Aussie winners: Nil
Top Aussie prediction: Sarah Kemp
TV schedule: Live 2am-5am Friday, Saturday on Fox Sports 503; Live 6.30am-9.30am Sunday on Fox Sports 507; Live 6am-9am on Fox Sports 507.