In a rare sporting first Graeme McDowell gets the chance later this week to present the Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy and winner’s jacket to himself.
Graeme McDowell clutching what else but an Arnold Palmer cup while speaking to the media on Tuesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
McDowell has proudly accepted the invitation to act as one of a handful of ‘ambassadors’ at this week’s tournament that will be a week-long tribute to Palmer who passed away last September.
A 14-foot high stature of Palmer, located just near the first tee at Bay Hill, was unveiled Saturday while many other tributes and activities are planned in the lead-up and during the $US 8.7m event.
“I was asked to be an ambassador this week because of my Mastercard sponsorship connection and while I was worried I may be taking on too much the organisers have been very respectful as I have to also play golf,” said McDowell.
“That’s what Amy Saunders said to me that if my dad was still alive he’d say ‘let the kid play golf as he’s here to compete’. So they’ve been great and I’m really excited and very honoured to be part of it, and my schedule this week is really not crazy, at all.”
“There’s an opening ceremony on Wednesday I will be a part of and I will be part of the prize-giving ceremony on Sunday as one of the hosts, so hopefully I will be playing late on Sunday and you never know, I could be handing the trophy to myself.”
Whatever way you look at it, the tournament has gained some unnecessary attention and with American Billy Horschel getting onto Twitter to remark: “Disappointing. Totally understand schedule issues. But 1st year without AP. Honor an icon. Without him wouldn’t be in position we are today.”
And while 49 of the world’s top-50 recently competed in Mexico City this week’s Orlando will have just 10 of the top-25. Missing will be World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Justin Thomas and former Palmer Invitational winner, Phil Mickelson.
“Guys pay their respects whatever way they want to and I don’t think turning up is an extra way of paying respects or not,” said McDowell. “To me it’s not about this year. It’s about the tournament going forward and getting guys to continue to compete at this event. There’s no point the top-20 players in the world turning up and not coming back next year or years after. Part of why I am on board this week is to help try and keep the Arnold Palmer tournament as one of the premier events on the PGA schedule and that the best players in the world continue to support it going forward.”
“So, I am less concerned about next week than the next 10 years. I know Billy Horschel came out saying a few things and guys will have their own opinions but then it’s a tough time of year as there’s a WGC next week and the Masters is coming up.”
“The good thing for me it’s become a home event for me but then I either finish top-five or I miss the cut, so it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship. And living now in Orlando as long as I have it’s probably more of a home event than the Irish Open so this week I get to stay at home with the family and enjoy a lot of support from plenty of friends I have in the town.”
“I was second here in 2005 so I have pretty good memories of a course I now know very well.”