Benedictine Archabbot Douglas Nowicki of St Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, was with Arnold Palmer when the golfing great died on September 25 in Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t the first time Archabbot Nowicki had visited Palmer that
day. Palmer, 87, was in a hospital awaiting a heart operation scheduled
for September 26.
“I went to say a prayer and give him a blessing. About
an hour after I’d departed, I got a call” that Palmer’s health was
failing rapidly, the archabbot told Catholic News Service in a September
26 telephone interview.
Even though Palmer was a lifelong Presbyterian, he’d had a
relationship with St Vincent’s spanning more than 50 years, when
Archabbot Nowicki himself was in the high school at the archabbey.
Palmer did not let denominational differences deter him. “Arnie sort
of appealed to everyone. There were no barriers, race, colour, creed —
those were things that never entered into” his mind, Archabbot Nowicki
said. “He was welcoming to everybody and treated everyone with
tremendous warmth and respect.” Palmer came with his wife on occasion to
the arch abbey’s 7.30 a.m. Sunday Mass.
“I remember him coming here on one occasion after winning several of
the golf tournaments early in his career. He was hitting golf balls for
the students. By then he had a fairly good reputation,” Archabbot
Nowicki recalled. “He would give a little demonstration. I remember when
he was doing it they put a little trash pail out in the middle, about
150 yards out, and he was hitting balls out and he got about five in the
tanker,” he chuckled.
“The first time he invited me over, I told him I didn’t know how to
play, so I sent my prior, Fr Albert. But this was after he retired
professionally. But he still played golf, every day at Latrobe Country
Club.” When the archabbot saw Palmer again, he said the golfer told him,
“The next time you send someone, send someone who is as good as your
prior. This guy cost me 20 bucks.”
Archabbot Nowicki added: “Arnie, as you know, was competitive and enjoyed playing with good golfers,”
In retirement, Palmer lived five months of the year in his native
Latrobe. Not only did he and his first wife, Winnie, who died in 1999,
lend their name and their presence to various archabbey events, Winnie
Palmer was “very helpful at keeping Wal-Mart out of our backyard,”
Archabbot Nowicki said.
Arnold Palmer also served on the St Vincent’s
College board of directors. In 1996 the college gave Palmer an honorary
Archabbot Nowicki took up Palmer’s invitation to join him when the
golfing legend received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012. Jack
Nicklaus was there and he paid tribute to Arnie at the service,” the
archabbot recalled. “I know Jack had always been a wonderful friend of
Arnie’s, and the two enjoyed each other’s company.”
Palmer learned golf from his father, who was the greenskeeper at the
Latrobe Country Club.
He attended what was then Wake Forest College on a
golf scholarship. He left school and enlisted in the US Coast Guard,
serving for three years. In 1954, he won the US Amateur golf tournament;
a year later he won the Canadian Open, and his golf career was
Palmer won 95 professional championships, including 62 on the PGA
Tour, and seven major tournaments. He earned $1.6 million in prize
money, and another $50 million in golf-related business off the course.
He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.
The archabbey will hold a memorial service for Palmer on October 4 at the basilica on the archabbey grounds.