LATROBE, PENNSYLVANIA | On a gorgeous early October day, it was time to say a proper goodbye to Arnold Palmer.
While several hundred invited guests tucked into the basilica on the campus of Saint Vincent College on Tuesday, hundreds more gathered outside to share in the memorial service that celebrated Palmer’s remarkable 87 years.
Charlie Mechem, the former commissioner of the LPGA and a longtime friend of Palmer’s, called it “the elite battalion of Arnie’s Army.”
Jack Nicklaus. Annika Sörenstam. Lee Trevino. Phil Mickelson. Nancy Lopez. Tim Finchem. Peter Dawson. Jim Nantz. And so many other prominent faces in the game made the trip to Palmer’s hometown for a final farewell.
Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson along with captain Davis Love III brought the Ryder Cup to the ceremony.
It was a day to celebrate Palmer and his enduring spirit. There were tears but not many. The music and the speeches were intended to bring joy and smiles, and they succeeded.
“When he saw somebody take an interest in him, he lit up like a Christmas tree and he turned it around and gave it back,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said.
Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson, did an exceptional job remembering his grandfather, who he called “Dumpy,” a nickname given to Palmer by another grandchild.
“There wasn’t a big difference in the man you saw on TV and the man you saw at home,” he said.
Saunders talked to Palmer just after 4 p.m. two Sundays ago, not realizing it would be the last time he spoke with his grandfather. Palmer was in the hospital preparing for heart surgery when his condition suddenly turned grave.
“He told me to take care of my family, and I said I intend to do that for my entire life,” Saunders said. “I told him I loved him and he told me he loved me. That was the last thing he told me.”
Nicklaus recalled the words of legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully who, upon calling the final game of his 67-year career, reminded listeners not to be sad but to smile because of what had happened.
“My wife often says memories are the cushions of life,” Nicklaus said and reminded the audience to remember not just how Palmer touched them but why he did.
After the service ended inside, the visitors gathered on the steps of the basilica and watched as Pete Luster, co-pilot of Palmer’s beloved jet with the tail number N1AP, did a low flyby, dropping a wing toward the church.
A moment later, Luster made another pass in front of the church, this time turning the jet’s nose up into a hard climb and flew away into the blue sky as Amazing Grace was played by a bagpiper.