Skip to main content

“use A Mid-iron”

June 2024
1min read


In the early sixties, when the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am was still played under Bing’s name on the Monterey Peninsula, I had only recently taken up the game. A friend of mine, a dedicated golfer, invited me to accompany him to view one of the rounds at the “Crosby Clambake.” We arrived on this particular morning at the Pebble Beach links.

My friend was eager to follow Tony Lema, a local favorite on the verge of stardom. I, on the other hand, wanted to join the ranks of “Arnie’s Army,” so we agreed to part and meet in an hour or so at the clubhouse.

It didn’t take me long to locate the throng about the redoubtable Arnold Palmer, but its sheer numbers discouraged me, and I opted instead to observe the lesser luminaries whose talents were on display before far fewer spectators.

When it was about time to rejoin my companion at the clubhouse, I set off on what I thought was a shortcut through some woods dotted thickly with bushes. After a few minutes I came upon a small clearing, and there, lying at my feet in pristine elegance, I spotted a golf ball. New to the game, I could not conceive that the object could have been propelled there but by the rawest beginner.

I was reaching down to pick it up when a voice to my right inquired, “Have you seen my ball in here?”

Startled, I turned to see a husky young man emerging from the bushes. At once I recognized the great man himself—Arnold Palmer!

“There it is,” I said as coolly as possible.

“Thanks,” he nodded at me, smiling.

Palmer stood over his ball for a moment and then squatted down in a catcher’s crouch, I along with him. For the first time I noticed that there was a narrow opening among the bushes leading to a swath of grass, and beyond that we could see the edge of the green, perhaps forty feet away.

“How do you think I should play this?” asked Arnie.

Of course, it was a rhetorical question, addressed to me only as a friendly gesture, but in my naivete I had the temerity to say, “Well, I’d use a midiron and punch it out and run it on to the green.”

The waitress came down the counter distributing menus. John did not get one: we don’t serve blacks, she explained.

Arnold Palmer grinned at me and nodded again. He had three or four clubs in his hand and selected one of them. Honestly, I don’t know which iron it was, but he promptly hit his shot through the opening perfectly, and the ball bounded once or twice on the grass, then rolled expertly onto the green.

Arnie winked at me in satisfaction and quickly followed the ball through the opening. I stood there at the edge of the bushes and watched him make his putt.

The crowd moved on with Palmer, but I remained there for a minute or so, basking in the glow of the event.

Forever after, I would be able to say truthfully: “I once gave Arnold Palmer advice on how to play a golf shot.”

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate