April 1, 2018

A Salute to Arnie

How Peter Jacobsen is faring in his role as Tournament Host of the Arnold Palmer Invitational

By: Garrett Johnston

Stepping onto the Bay Hill property during the Arnold Palmer Invitational (API) evokes a bittersweet feeling. On the one hand it’s exciting to be at the King’s beloved course and its friendly confines. On the other, that joy is met with a sadness knowing that he will never be there again; driving around in his golf cart, playing the tireless role of tournament host.

While that void will never fully be filled, thankfully others have stepped in to take the reins and carry on the hosting traditions set by the King. Chief among them is Peter Jacobsen, the amicable 7-time PGA Tour winner and current Golf Channel and NBC Commentator.

Jacobsen calls Palmer his “idol,” and has some wonderful history with the man who’s legend was only eclipsed by his presence. During Palmer’s final API in 2016, the then-86-year-old drove his golf car for the entire back nine following his grandson Sam Saunders shot for shot. After six holes, Palmer and his wife Kit were joined on the 16th fairway by a familiar face in Peter Jacobsen. The trio laughed and sat three-across as the late afternoon turned into evening. It’s a special window of time Jacobsen relishes and feels honored to have been rewarded with only minutes after signing off from that day’s Golf Channel broadcast.

Fast-forward to last month’s API and Jacobsen, for the second-straight year, was asked to be a co-host of the event – an opportunity he graciously accepts and does not take lightly.

“Arnold Palmer’s shoes can never truly be filled as host,” Jacobsen says. “We can only hope to honor his legacy.”

It’s true. Arnie’s shoes are so large that any one man cannot fill them. That said, Jacobsen was one of the five hosts of the 2017 API, and was joined by playing host Rickie Fowler in 2018.

“Being on the host committee is one of the greatest honors of my career,” Jacobsen says. “I was fortunate to have known Arnold, spent time with him, laughed with him and competed alongside him. He defined everything that it means to be a professional.”

Fowler received the inaugural Arnold Palmer philanthropy award from the Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation during pre-tournament activities. Palmer’s grandson, Saunders, presented the award to him.

Fowler first remembers spending time with Arnold as a kid when he won an AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) event at Bay Hill.

“Arnold is someone that inspired you to be a better person and those are the kind of people you want to surround yourself with,” Fowler says. “I was lucky enough to get the time that I did with Mr. Palmer.”

Fowler wore Arnold Palmer-inspired shoes both last year and this year to help raise money for the Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation. In 2017, the shoes raised a little over $25,000 for the charity. At the 2018 event, Fowler wore a pair and the other pair was auctioned off in a raffle. It hit the $25,000 mark before the tournament even started.

The 29-year-old loves being involved in these creative fundraisers with the Arnold Palmer Invitational and as a playing co-host. He felt honored to receive the philanthropy award.

“It’s pretty special,” Fowler says. “Anything involved with Mr. Palmer, The King, and to be honored by the family and the tournament is cool. And to get the award from Sam, it’s pretty special.”

Fowler appreciates the doors Palmer opened up for touring professionals and the game as a whole.

“Arnold definitely helped pave the way for what we’re able to do out here,” Fowler adds. “Obviously guys like Tiger through that generation, they took it to a new level, but none of this would have been possible for Tiger without guys like Arnie setting the stage.”

Jacobsen, in his role as co-host, understand snow just how much Mr. Palmer did in years past.

“All of us on the host committee now realize how busy Arnold was during the week,” Jacobsen says. “From corporate commitments to his tournament and charitable duties, I’m amazed at how much ground he covered. He was always generous with his time and kind to everyone. Our duties that week were special and fun to be a part of.”

Jacobsen had particularly close bond to Mr. Palmer and felt The King took him under his wing when he first started out on tour in the 1970s.

“Being able to spend any time at all with Arnold was special,” Jacobsen says. “He was a mentor to so many, a natural leader and counselor. He was always helpful to us younger pros and never failed to educate us on the proper ways to conduct ourselves.”

Looking ahead, Jacobsen believes that the API will continue to bring in the game’s biggest names because they will be drawn to Mr. Palmer’s legacy.

“I think the tournament and field at the API will continue to grow and improve,” Jacobsen adds. “The players have become comfortable with the course and every one of the players respects Arnold and his legacy. Winning the API is now on everyone’s radar.

“Because Arnold is no longer with us, it’s more important than ever to continue his legacy.”