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Alma mater showcases golf legend Arnie Palmer

| Friday, May 20, 2011

On April 18, 1947, "The High Post," Latrobe High School's student newspaper, made a terribly understated prediction about a member of the senior class.

Seventeen-year-old Arnold Palmer, who would graduate that spring, "showed promise of greater things this year when he tied the Latrobe Country Club record last Wednesday by shooting a 31 for nine holes," the paper reported.

The school, now known as Greater Latrobe, on Thursday showed just how much of that "promise" Palmer has lived up to -- and surpassed -- during his lifetime, unveiling the Arnold Palmer Class of 1947 permanent display case in the high school auxiliary gymnasium.

The case is lined with mementos of Palmer's accomplishments from his golf career to his business ventures to his aviation career. Photos of Palmer and his high school golf teammates -- whom he said used to "kid me about playing pro" golf -- sit next to replica trophies from Palmer's U.S. Open and Masters Tournament victories. Eleven covers of Sports Illustrated bearing Palmer's likeness -- including the one from Jan. 9, 1961, when he was named the magazine's Sportsman of the Year -- are hung next to a box of Wheaties with the golfer's picture on the front.

The Latrobe-area native said the display evoked memories about his early golf career, not all of them pleasant.

"When I was a freshman, (the coaches) wouldn't let me go to one event that I was sure I would have won," Palmer said. "That's something I remember quite well. Of course, it doesn't bother me now."

That makes sense, considering since then Palmer has won 92 tournaments, 61 of those on the PGA Tour, including seven major championships.

Palmer said the support he has received from his community, both when he was a young athlete and now, with the permanent display, has given him the sense of hometown pride that keeps him coming back.

"The area has been my home, and it will always be my home," he said. "To have gone to Latrobe (High School) and to have had the pleasure and privilege to have the support (from the area) as a pro golfer helped give me the opportunities that I have had over the years."

Gary Garrison, former Latrobe athletic director and Palmer's longtime friend, said knowing Palmer has given him countless opportunities as well, including the chance to play on world-famous golf courses -- that is, once he convinced Palmer he could hold his own.

Garrison shared a story about a time he was in Las Vegas and met up with Palmer, who was subsequently recognized by a passer-by.

"We were standing in front of Caesar's Palace and an elderly lady came up and said, 'Aren't you Arnold Palmer?' " Garrison said.

She said her husband was an admirer who wanted a picture with Palmer. After the picture was taken, Palmer said, " 'Now ma'am, if you really want to get your husband with somebody, that's Gary Garrison,' " Garrison recalled. "The woman said, 'Who?' and (Palmer) said, 'Gary Garrison.' And she said, 'Oh, yeah.' So now, somewhere in this world, that poor woman was going around with a picture of me."

Palmer said while he was flattered by the display, which includes a large photo of Palmer during his last British Open victory, he hopes it inspires those who pass by it.

"I hope that, in some way, it helps teach young people what it means to be from here and to have something like this happen," Palmer said. "Latrobe has a wealth, and I'm not talking about a monetary wealth. I feel the support the community gives to each other, that's very important."

An inscription from the Sports Illustrated "Sportsman of the Year" article about Palmer, written by Richard Meek, is included in the display:

"His eyes burn with concentration as he stands tense at the pin, gauging, measuring, calculating the problem presented by the ball, which lies across a green that is filled with secret guile. He is, for the moment, motionless. ... No one, watching at home or on the scene, dares breathe in this excruciating suspenseful moment. Why• Simply this: Arnold Palmer is about to putt, and Arnold Palmer is a superstar."

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