For 20 years my father, Bill, has had the same routine. Just
before noon, a little earlier on weekends, he leaves his house by
the 10th green at Bay Hill and drives his cart to the 1st tee,
where he and his buddy, Arnold Palmer, size up the day's pigeons.
The daily game, played with six or seven others, is called the
Shootout. This little better-ball tournament takes place every
day, unless it rains or the PGA Tour has taken over the place.
My parents moved our family to the Palmers' Florida retreat in
1978, and I've played in the Shootout since my allowance was big
enough to make me a mark. I still play whenever I'm not on Tour.
The other Tour pros from Orlando, guys like Scott Hoch and Dickey
Pride, play too. Payne Stewart also used to be a regular.
I can assure you that the pressures of a Tour event are nothing
compared with trying to hit shots with my dad and Mr. Palmer
sticking the needle in during every swing. When I first played in
the Shootout, I was 15 and Mr. Palmer made sure I was in his
foursome. He let me have it on the 1st tee. My drive went way
left, onto the range. So did my second. Two straight snap hooks.
Besides business trips and away games, only two things have kept
Mr. Palmer out of the Shootout: his prostate cancer surgery three
years ago and the death of his wife, Winnie, in November. When I
walked into the Bay Hill grillroom the day after she passed away,
there was a reserved sign on her regular table, along with one
place setting and dozens of sympathy cards.
I played with Mr. Palmer in the Shootout about a week later and,
naturally, he was really down. He told me that he had been in his
office reading the sympathy cards before we teed off. Last week
at Bay Hill there wasn't any special commemoration of Mrs.
Palmer's passing, but we'll remember her quietly and privately,
which is the Palmers' way.
Robert Damron, 27, missed the cut last week at Bay Hill.
COLOR PHOTO: JON FERREY/ALLSPORT