I should start by noting that my mother is Janet Hulcher and she worked closely with Mr. Palmer at Bay Hill for over 18 years (technically Janet is my stepmother, but I stopped making that distinction long ago). She and my father George were fortunate to have developed a close relationship with Mr. Palmer.So it goes without saying I've been fortunate to hear many firsthand accounts of Mr. Palmer, his genuine desire to help others and his corresponding enormous generosity.
And then there are the stories of how he loved his fans. While not a golfer, I love the game and of course like so many I greatly admired Mr. Palmer. Janet told him this and over the years Mr. Palmer was kind enough to send me precious pieces of memorabilia with his telltale signature and his best wishes to me.
The story I'm choosing to share is from August 2011 when my wife and I met Mr. Palmer during his trip to Portland, OR to play in Peter Jacobsen's charity golf tournament. We drove to the Hillsboro airport to meet Mr. Palmer who flew in on his plane (of course) along with his wife Kit, Janet, my father, his longtime pilot Pete ("Pete the Pilot"), and another pilot who flew with Pete. It was a sight watching his plane approach, land, and then taxi over to the small terminal. When he stepped out I got chills. After hugging my mom and dad, we were introduced to Mr. Palmer. He invited us to step into his plane, which was really cool. I told him, jokingly, I might need one for myself. He chuckled. He was so down to earth and welcoming.
My parents rode to the golf course with us while Mr. and Mrs. Palmer and the others rode in the car that came for them. We arrived at the Portland Golf Club with the crew and were whisked off to the clubroom and a special area for golfers and families where we ate lunch. My wife and I were on cloud nine at this point. And when Mr. Palmer started putting practice, we got to watch him and rub elbows with Fuzzy Zoeller and Peter Jacobsen. And if that wasn't enough, my wife and I were able to follow Mr. Palmer--I mean, actually follow behind him, on the course--as he played his round (and he wasn't playing much golf in public at this time). I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so I soaked it up. Not only was I with my parents, my wife and I got to watch Mr. Palmer play his game up close. We saw the look in his eyes right before his signature swing. Wow. Just, wow. He sank a long put on one of the holes, and the crowd went nuts. It might as well have been the Masters.
And when he finished his round, he was given one of the longest ovations I've witnessed. As he rode in his cart on the way back to the clubhouse, he was of course mobbed by fans. He graciously signed many autographs before the security folks whisked us away. We hung out in the clubhouse for a bit before heading back to the airport. When we said our goodbyes, I gave Mr. Palmer a bottle of my favorite red wine from Oregon's wine country. He was so appreciative and posed for a picture with me and my wife. We watched them fly away and that was the end of an experience I'll never forget.