By Ferd Lewis
Once it was Arnold Palmer's grace under pressure in the Masters that certified how special he could be.
Now, at age 72, it is his grace in knowing when and how to say goodbye.
When Palmer said this was his last Masters, that after 48 consecutive trips to Augusta National, 148 rounds among the azaleas and four green jackets, he would no longer return as a competitor, it said a lot.
It told us that while he might no longer be able to drive with the kids, he still has an impeccable sense of timing and an abundance of class for any age.
It is something to reflect upon these days when aging stars and their coaches are either reluctant to leave the stage or don't know when to stay retired.
For there are few sights sadder than a former superstar desperately trying to hang on to a sliver of the limelight or a hero tottering on well past respectability.
Palmer and the few that approach his station in sports deserve to be remembered for the wonders of their prime, not the struggles of their twilight years.
True to his character, Palmer gave a half dozen self-deprecating reasons about why he would no longer pick up a club in competition there again. "You know it is time to retire when you either know the first names of everyone in the gallery or their relatives," Palmer joked with the gallery at one point.
You got the feeling, however, that had he kept coming back and trailing the field, Palmer would not have been comfortable with what would have confronted him in the champion's locker room mirror.
That is the difference between Palmer and so many others, not only in golf, but in all sports; knowing when to say when. And how to bow out gracefully.
He would say with a touch of disappointment in his voice that, "I don't want to get a letter," a reference to how Augusta National has started to shabbily nudge some of his contemporaries toward pasture. Billy Casper, 70, Gay Brewer, 70, and Doug Ford, 79, some of whom had not made a cut there going on two decades, all got "the letter" from Hootie Johnson, the chairman of Augusta National, encouraging them to step over to the other side of the ropes.
It is a safe bet that nobody was going to write one to the King anytime soon, no matter how many errant shots he might have sprayed around. When you have popularized golf, opening it up for generations who weren't to the manor born, you can pretty much write your own checks. And keep cashing them.
The sport owes him so much that letting Palmer play on for another five years wouldn't have even made a dent in the accrued interest. And Palmer knows it.
It is a mark of the man, however, that he would be the last one to remind anybody about it or demand payment.