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It’s a special week in Orlando this week. It’s that time of year when the Arnold Palmer Invitational rolls around… only this year it’s different.
Arnold Palmer passed away last September and for the first time the event will be played without its beloved host. While his loss has been felt worldwide his presence looms large over the event and he remains at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Sam Saunders (pictured above), Palmer’s grandson, hit a ceremonial tee shot along with numerous other PGA players in turn, in a moving opening ceremony this morning at the practice grounds at Bay Hill.
On the way to the tee this week, players will also find a a 13-foot tall statue of Arnold Palmer, pictured above, to greet them.
Captured in full swing, it’s a marvelous bronze tribute to Arnold Palmer, the common man who became a King and created his own army of fans.
Sculptor Bruce Wolfe took eight months to create the piece, spending time with Palmer and gathering more than 100 photos of the King to help him draft a small-scale model. The statue weighs 1,392 pounds and is now a permanent fixture near the 1st and 10th tees at Bay Hill, where Palmer maintained a home.
The statue depicts Palmer as he finishes a powerful swing and was inspired by Palmer’s early career, including his 1964 Masters victory and is a replica of the statue that also sits at the Arnold Palmer Golf Complex at Wake Forest.
Tournament organizers have worked hard this week to make the tournament a celebration of Palmer’s life and while everyone will miss seeing him crisscrossing the fairways in his golf cart or handing out the prize to the winner, they have done a great job so far.
Yesterday Arnie’s March Against Children’s Cancer raised some $288,194 as hundreds of marchers walked around the 9th hole at Bay Hill. It was the fifth time the event has been held and it is now considered an annual event having raised over $500,000 since inception.
In addition to the walk, participants enjoyed family-friendly activities and met children who are fighting cancer.
After the event, Mastercard held a “Giving Back and Doing Good…because #ArnieWould” event with Brad Snedeker to look back on Arnold Palmer’s life and his legacy of giving back. NBC/ Golf Channel on air talent Steve Sands served as moderator while Snedeker, Mastercard Player Ambassador, Kevin Bingham, CEO at Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation, Ty Votaw, EVP of Communications & International Affairs at PGA TOUR and Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing Officer at Mastercard executive gave their thoughts on the impact that Arnold Palmer has had on the game of golf and the lives of fans throughout the globe.
Due to Palmer’s passing, the tournament now has a new host committee of current PGA player Graeme McDowell, former PGA Tour stars Curtis Strange and Peter Jacobsen, LPGA icon Annika Sorenstam and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.
“Arnold was a force of nature, on and off the course,” 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell said. “ … Obviously, we got to know him as a golfer, but the person was even more special. You only had to spend a few minutes in his company to understand why he touched so many people the way he did. From his signature on every autograph that he ever signed, to just the way he touched people and the way he gave back, he really was just one of the most rounded athletes that we can think of. His personality was bigger than his golf in so many ways, and he was as great a role model as we can think of in the game of golf.”
Despite some of the game’s best not playing in Orlando this week, including world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas, four of the top 10 in the world are here. Defending champion Jason Day, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, reigning British Open champion Henrik Stenson and Hideki Matsuyama. No. 9 Rickie Fowler, No. 13 Justin Rose, reigning Masters champion Danny Willett, two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, two-time major champion Martin Kaymer, World Golf Hall of Fame members Ernie Els and Vijay Singh are in the field as well as the ever popular John Daly.
“Arnold meant an awful lot to every one of us,” said Mcllroy (pictured above.) “Anyone that is involved with the game of golf in any capacity, especially the ones that get paid to play it or get paid to write about it, I mean, he was a massive part of that. And I think we all owe him a massive debt of gratitude for what he did for the game.”
The tournament begins tomorrow 16th March and runs through to Sunday 19th March. Tickets are still available at arnoldpalmerinvitational.com
More photographs from the opening ceremony, Arnie’s March and the Mastercard event are at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com