Arnold Palmer exemplified one of life’s lessons

Arnold Palmer exemplified one of life's lessons

My father often spoke about the work ethic of fellow Wake Forest University attendee Arnold Palmer, a man he admired greatly. But first, as was his custom, Dad would describe their connection.

“Yes, Arnie was a good golfer at WFU, but not the best,” he’d tell me, setting up his punch line. “In fact, did you know there was only a one-stroke difference in our scores?”

“Really?” I’d reply, searching his face for his crooked smile to emerge, the tell that let me know he was teasing me.

“ON EACH HOLE,” he’d quip, and slap his knee before breaking into gentle laughter. “Got you, didn’t I, BB?” he’d say, using his pet name for me.


Knowing that eighteen strokes is a far cry from the one-stroke score difference he’d implied, I’d allow my father his fun each time he told the story. Dad might have joked about his “classmate” and their golf game scores, but he had tremendous respect for Arnold Palmer and his “no off-season” work ethic. “A class act,” Dad called the legend.

But Palmer didn’t start out as a legend. “He was not Wake Forest’s number one golfer,” Dad reminded me. “He became the number one golfer by not indulging in the off-season syndrome.”

While a golf scholarship student at Wake Forest, Palmer practiced golf on the little nine-hole college course day in and day out, rain or shine. He would play his long shots until dusk. He would chip until darkness fell. Then he would go to number seven green – just off the Durham highway – and turn on his car lights and putt until his car’s battery nearly depleted itself.

Dad’s point, however, was not to encourage work-aholism, or even recreational-aholism. “The challenge,” Dad offered, “is to live life consistent with one’s gifts and to cultivate those gifts to their fullest potential.”

There is no such thing as an off-season for life, either, Dad contended. Life is daily – lived day in and day out, rain or shine. Even though some of us may long for the pause of an unscheduled day off, time still moves on, either with us, actively engaged, or through us, passively detached.

“The element that makes life unequal is found not so much in differing gifts as in different lifestyles that are made different at the point of commitment,” Dad wrote.

How true at so many levels. Whatever one’s venture – personal growth, marriage, family, job, profession, or athletics – the key that unlocks potential is found through one word: commitment.

Not much ever happens without commitment.

Arnold Palmer knew that. So did my father.

Our pursuit of life must certainly include respites, holidays and vacations where we can hit our reset button regularly to give perspective and restore our weary wills.

Yet, success is not a switch we can flip, but rather a steady current of committed effort, sustained over time.

Life cannot indulge in the off-season syndrome. It’s too daily, too demanding, too precious – and too short.

Rebecca Faye Smith Galli is the daughter of the late Dr. R.F. Smith Jr., a longtime columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Becky is a freelance writer, columnist, and soon-to-be author of “Rethinking Possible – A Memoir of Resilience.” Twitter @Chairwriter 

First published 10/2/16 Herald-Dispatch

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