If you ever followed a round of golf with Arnold Palmer, you understand the man’s magnetism.
At some point during the day, he would make a point to look you square in the eye and often add a wink or a nod. There are reasons why he is one of the most acclaimed people in all of sports – and one of the most successful, on and off the course – and his relationship with his fans explains why he is called “The King.”
In that spirit, The Golf Channel premiered “Arnie & Me” last month. It’s a documentary of homemade movies, personal anecdotes and memories submitted by the fans, athletes and celebrities who still revere him.
I’m sure many local fans have their own “Arnie” stories to tell. One of those fans is George Buzzini Jr., 74, an area PGA pro for 55 years. He has served as the head professional at everywhere from Manteca Park to Stockton Country Club and, as you might expect, loves all things golf.
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Buzzini, semi-retired after years of work at Jack Tone Golf in Ripon, owns the book, “How To Play The Old Course,” a how-to on playing the famed St. Andrew’s links in Scotland. It was written by two great golf men – architect Desmond Muirhead and caddie James “Tip” Anderson.
That book forms the hub of Buzzini’s own Arnie story.
Like many passionate golfers, he made his pilgrimage to St. Andrew’s, often called the home of golf, in 2001. One night at a bar-restaurant near the ageless course, he was introduced to Anderson, who was having a beer with friends. Buzzini didn’t need a golf historian for background.
Anderson, arguably the most famous caddie in the history of St. Andrew’s, carried Palmer’s bag at the British Open for 30 years. That included Palmer’s victories at Birkdale in 1961 and Troon in ’62. He also toted for Tony Lema’s win in 1964 at the Old Course when Palmer couldn’t make the trip.
All this rushed through Buzzini’s head when he saw Anderson in 2001, about three years before the caddie’s death at 71.
“I introduced myself and asked him if I could have his autograph,” Buzzini said.
“Did you buy my book, laddie?” Anderson asked.
With that, Buzzini rushed across the street, bought the book and returned. Anderson gladly signed it, and Buzzini vowed, “If I ever meet Mr. Palmer, I’ll ask him to sign the book, too.”
A year later at the Skins Game at Wailea (Maui), Buzzini had his chance. Palmer was warming up for his round on the practice range when Buzzini, Anderson’s book in hand, worked up the guts to approach The King. When Buzzini showed Palmer the book, the deal was done.
“Oh my God, that’s Tip!” Palmer said. He soon signed the book, but the meeting was not finished.
“Don’t you want a picture, too?” Palmer asked. Buzzini, without fainting on the spot, complied. If you run into Buzzini at the Jack Tone clubhouse, he’ll display the book, the photo and the treasured autographs.
“Outside of the things I’ve done in the game, the meetings with those two men are the highlights of my career,” Buzzini said. “Mr. Palmer could not have been more gracious.”
There might be another thrill on the way. Buzzini and his son Tim will make their first trip to the Masters next week and will watch the final two rounds in person.
The Shag Bag – The Central Catholic High School boys were one of six teams to qualify for the CIF State Championships last spring. That super season apparently was not a fluke. The Raiders shot a 178, an average of 1-under 35, during a recent match at Dryden Park. ... Atwater’s Shane Watts won a three-man playoff to take the boys first flight last month during a Junior Tour of Northern California tournament at Stockton CC. Watts shot 78 and 78 before he won the playoff.
Holes-in-one – Larry Robinson, Modesto, 131-yard second at Del Rio CC (River), 8-iron. ... Sienna Starck, Ripon (a member of the Cal State East Bay golf team), 130-yard 13th at Hiddenbrooke, Vallejo, 9-iron. ... Pat Gilbreath, Oakdale, 122-yard 12th at Oakdale CC, 7-wood. ... Dorothy Bettencourt, Gustine, 130-yard seventh at St. Stanislaus, 6-wood. ... Elliot Lograsso, Ripon, 151-yard 16th at Jack Tone Golf, Ripon, 7-iron. ... Lawrence Campiotti, Tracy, 90-yard fourth at Jack Tone, pitching wedge.