Latrobe Country Club
Arnold Palmer is widely recognized as one of the most beloved men in the history of sports.
Winning seven major championships and 50+ PGA Tour events certainly played a role in that.
His unique personality which made nobody feel like a stranger in his presence also played a part.
And the fact that he won the 1954 U.S. Amateur and many times professed his love for the amateur game made him a man who was comfortable on either side of the aisle, pro or amateur.
That’s why he would have been all smiles Thursday as the Palmer Cup was played for the 28th time at Latrobe Country Club, where Palmer grew up and matured into the champion he became.
It was a bright, sunny day in Western Pennsylvania, a great day to play golf.
The Palmer Cup is a Ryder Cup-style competition between a team of club professionals from the Tri-State Section PGA and amateurs from the West Penn Golf Association.
Both teams are selected off a points list and play four-ball matches in the morning and singles matches in the afternoon.
On this occasion, the amateurs got the better of the pros, 10-7, getting a win for only the first time in the last five meetings. And while getting a ‘W’ is always important, even an ‘L’ stings a little less on a day like this.
“They played well and we didn’t,” said John Aber, the professional at Allegheny Country Club said after his team came up a few points short. “As a team, we got off to a good start, but the amateurs played better. One thing that’s a constant here, I missed Mr. Palmer greatly. I think about him the entire day and just miss him.”
The win by the amateurs made the over record 19 wins for the pros, seven for the ams and two ties. But again, the Palmer Cup is more than the wins and losses,
It’s an ongoing tribute to what The King meant to the game, how his spirit lives on seven years after his death and the example he set throughout his glittering career.
But, even with that, there are some times when winning is really special.
One of those took place Thursday when brothers Nick and Alex Turowski competed for the amateurs. They were paired together in the four-ball competition, the leadoff team as a matter of fact.
Nick is a senior at Penn-Trafford High School (on his way to West Virginia University) and Alex is a junior Fairmont State University in West Virginia.
They faced the duo of Brett Carman and Steven Hopley, a match the pros won, 3 & 2.
“I feel sorry we didn’t win as a team in the morning,” said Alex.”But it was good to get it together and both of us get wins in the afternoon.”
The happiness for Nick, who played in several national events this summer, was dampened somewhat by events later in the day. His high school team dropped its final match of the season, coming up short in its quest to make the playoffs.
The winning amateur team
“It was a hard decision but I had to do this,” he said. “This is a big event and nothing is guaranteed for the future.”
Even with Palmer no longer involved, players from both sides keep an eye on those point standings as the year progresses. There’s still great interest in competing on the teams, an interest that sometimes conflicts with work or college and prevents participating sometimes.
“I think it’s a goal of all of our guys to make the team,” David Wright, Executive Director of the Tri-State Section PGA, said, “Mr. Palmer has been gone for several years and you can still feel the nostalgia on the day it’s played. And you can see the passion in the guys coming up. No doubt, one of our premier events.”
“Our guys have always looked forward to playing in the Palmer Cup, especially in the years Mr. Palmer played in it,” said Terry Teasdale, Executive Director of the West Penn Golf Association. “They always enjoyed getting the opportunity to say hello to him and being able to be around him in the get-togethers after the golf was over.”
It was known as the Challenge Cups in its infancy and battled through a myriad of changes on its way to being the event it is today.
“Way back, it was a good old boys club,” said Vince Zachetti, who was among the best amateurs in Western Pennsylvania in his day. “It was impossible for guys outside of Pittsburgh to get in. We never got invited. I played in it a couple times, but things really didn’t change for the better until Jeff Rivard took over as President of the West Penn Golf Association. He brought the WPGA out of the dark ages.”
In Zachetti’s mind, as well as many other amateurs, Rivard absolutely made this event a big deal.
“Jeff instituted a point system by which the top 10 earned spots on the amateur team,” he said. “And that made it a little bit special. We had never had that before.”
“We always thought this was a chance for our guys to make a statement. It’s a chance to prove our guys can play with the good amateurs,” Wright said. “But we didn’t always have our best players because they were too busy to play.”
Long-time Oakmont Country Club professional Bob Ford and Tri-State President Dennis Darak traveled to Latrobe CC in 1996 to have lunch with Palmer and his long-time administrative assistant Doc Giffin.
“We just wanted to see if Arnold would be interested in having the event at Latrobe and having the event named after him,” Ford said. “He told us right away he was flattered. His eyes lit up right away. And we haven’t left there.”
Ford was a key player in one of the most memorable stories in Palmer Cup history. He was playing in the afternoon better-ball portion of the event, paired with Ned Weaver, the head professional at New Castle Country Club at the time.
Ford had stopped in the pro shop prior to going to the first tee and for the first time noticed the framed scorecard of the day Palmer shot 60 at his home course.
“I didn’t give that much thought as we started to play,” he said. “But I just kept making more birdies. I was all about beating those guys (Nathan Smith and Sean Knapp, the two premier amateurs at the time).”
He did that in Hall-of-Fame fashion, closing the match out on 14. At that point, he was nine-under par, with the par-five 15th up next. Knapp headed to the tee and put the tee in the ground, but that’s as far as it got.
“AP is playing right in front of me and I’m going to try to break his course record?” Ford said.
“Not a chance. Not in Arnold’s house. Honestly, I didn’t think of it as much of a story, until it got written.”
Palmer played in the event for several years as his golf game became more and more difficult for him. He enjoyed being around those for whom he paved the way many years before. And it was an unimaginable thrill for them to play an event on his course with him there.
“AP was excited to be involved and he brought a palpable energy to the event,” Knapp said. “Jeff Rivard (former WPGA President) gets a lot of credit, Bob Ford gets a lot of credit. Getting the event to Latrobe CC and having it stay there … where else can you go and have that kind of atmosphere? I was just so privileged to play in so many of those with him being there.”
“Arnold enjoyed the event and really enjoyed being around the amateurs,” Giffin said. “He enjoyed meeting the younger amateurs, enjoyed hearing what they had to say. He enjoyed meeting young players he had never met before. There’s no doubt it meant a lot more when he was around.”View results for Palmer Cup Matches