Proving he's worthy of the name
By Ferd Lewis
As Ryan Palmer strode off the ninth green with a lead yesterday at Waialae Country Club, a fan proudly told friends, "I played with his grandfather, Arnold Palmer, here."
Said Ryan Palmer afterward: "I hear that a lot ... but, uh, we're not related."
Well, be prepared to hear it even more now after Palmer's dramatic one-shot victory for a wire-to-wire triumph in the Sony Open in Hawai'i.
The 4-under-par 66 yesterday for an overall 15-under 265 that bested Robert Allenby by one shot was the best performance — and second victory — of the 33-year-old Palmer's seven-year PGA Tour career.
And, it was the kind of unflinching, duel to the finish that was sealed with a birdie on the 18th hole, his nonrelative would be proud of.
It was, in fact, something the 62-tournament winning legend never did: win at Waialae. In 12 appearances here in the Sony's predecessor, the Hawaiian Open, the Hall of Famer got as close as a third-place finish (1975).
Yet as the younger Palmer's name jumped atop the leaderboard in Thursday's opening round and stayed there each subsequent day, conclusions were jumped to as they inevitably are.
Fans have told Palmer, a native Texan, about their memories of the golfing great who, at 80, is old enough to be his grandfather. They have asked him to say "hi" and told him of treasured moments and indelible memories. And, lately, of comparisons, too.
Through it all, Palmer has been gracious and understanding, if amused. "People have talked and talked and have gone on with stories and stories (about Arnold Palmer)," Palmer said. "I just let them go on because I don't what to ruin it for them that I'm really no relation. I'm flattered. He is a great man."
Palmer admitted to a thrill when, on a driving range once, he said the legendary golfer addressed him as "'cuz." "I laughed," Palmer said, "but we never really sat down and talked about it (the relationship confusion). Maybe someday."
After Saturday's third round, when they stood tied atop the leaderboard and crossed paths in the media interview room, Allenby playfully told Palmer to "get outta here."
But Palmer, by his determined and consistent play yesterday, wasn't going away. Not without the title and the $990,000 paycheck that accompanies it.
Just as, with Palmer's growing success, the confusion about ties with the Hall of Famer probably won't be going anywhere, either.
"I think they are still going to be curious," Palmer said. "There'll always be people who assume (the relationship), but let them think that. It is great."