Princeton, N.J. When Arnold Palmer tees off today in the Senior PGA Tour's Instinet Classic, it will mark the 70-year-old star's 1,000th PGA Tour-Senior PGA Tour event.
He made his first tour start in 1949 as a 19-year-old amateur in the Dapper Dan Open, played an hour from his hometown of Latrobe, Pa. He shot 76-75-76-76 at Pittsburgh's Alcoma Country Club to finish last out of 54 players.
"I played with Freddie Haas, who broke Byron Nelson's streak of 11 straight wins a few years before," Palmer said Thursday before playing in a pro-am at the TPC at Jasna Polana.
"George Lowe won the purse money. Jimmy Demaret played the piano all night, and George Schoux drove his car onto the 18th fairway and, with his headlights heading down the fairway, he practiced in the middle of the night."
Palmer has 60 PGA Tour victories (fourth on the career list), including seven majors, and 10 senior tour wins, including five majors. He was the first superstar in golf's televised era, and was a two-time Player of the Year and The Associated Press' Athlete of the Decade in the 1960s.
Palmer joins Miller Barber, Gay Brewer and Dave Eichelberger as the only men to play in 1,000 tournaments.
"It's not a significant thing to me," he said. "I feel glad I've been able to play 1,000 events, but more significant is the fact I've had 50 great years to get those thousand under my belt and to be fortunate enough to win the ones I've won.
"I played golf because I enjoyed it. I'm sorry I didn't win a lot more, but it doesn't bother me or my lifestyle.
"I don't think it would be any fun winning every golf tournament or winning everything I thought I should have won. If I did that, I wouldn't have anything to look forward to. Now, I do."
Palmer has not won an official event since the 1988 Crestar Classic and has gradually cut back his schedule since turning 65.
This will be Palmer's ninth senior event this season. His highest finish is a tie for 68th in the GTE Classic.
Still, Palmer remains one of golf's most popular figures, as witnessed by the large gallery that followed him Thursday.
"Whether he plays good or bad or in between, people love to see him out here playing," Lanny Wadkins said. "Every time he plays right now, he's basically giving back to the game. You have to take your hat off to Arnold for continually supporting golf and the tour by coming out and playing."