The Day I Met Arnold Palmer

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With the passing today of one of my sports heroes, Arnold Palmer, I got to thinking about the privilege I once had of attending all four rounds of the 1976 US Open golf tournament in Atlanta. Arnie was my golf idol, and I was following his group when lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and the horns signaled a rain delay. Arnie was whisked off through the trees on the left side of the fairway to wait out the delay.

My friend, Randy, then said to me, “We didn’t come all this way (from Tampa) for you not to meet Arnold Palmer. Come on!” We headed off through the trees and found Arnie sitting in a golf cart by (as I recall) a press tent. Some guys were standing around talking to him. One guy told a joke. And Randy led me, in all my shyness, into the presence of the man they call “the King.” I remember telling him he had made a nice birdie putt a few holes back (it was all I could think of to say). He smiled and said, “Thank you,” and sounded very genuine. He gave me an autograph, and I’m pretty sure we shook hands (it’s funny that I can’t remember for sure). But I do remember this: Arnold Palmer made me, an 18 year-old kid, feel like he was glad to meet me.

I just preached a message today from 1 Peter 2:11-17 about being good representatives of Christ. Peter calls in that passage for believers to give a good testimony for the Lord by how we handle fleshly desires, how we respond to authority, and how we treat people. I talked about how, if people are going to hate God, let’s not have it be because of anything we have done.

I don’t know what Arnie’s spiritual condition was. But tonight, Peter’s message to believers converges in my mind with my memory of having met Arnold Palmer, and I can only hope that I make people feel about Jesus the way Arnold Palmer made me feel about himself.

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