Brett Porath has been talking about Arnold Palmer for 15 minutes, and not once has Porath referred to him as anything but Mr. Palmer. Not Arnold, and certainly not Arnie. It’s Mr. Palmer, every time.

“If you were a fan, you called him Arnie. Friends called him Arnold,” Porath said. “When you worked for him, it was Mr. Palmer.”

One of the greatest golfers of all time, Palmer died last Sunday. He was 87. Porath, a 1986 Cony High graduate, worked for Palmer as an assistant pro at Bay Hill, the Palmer-owned golf course near Orlando, Florida, in the early 1990s. Later, Porath worked with Palmer as a tour rep for Callaway.

Now, Porath lives in Carlsbad, California, and works for Titlest. The news of Palmer’s death brought back nothing but good memories.

The first time Porath met Palmer, they were in the men’s locker room at Bay Hill. It was during one of the club’s shootout tournaments.

“One of the guys who ran the shootout had him in a headlock, giving him a noogie,” Porath said. “My jaw hit the floor.”

In the ensuing years, Porath learned it was not unusual to see Palmer goofing off.

“He never put on airs. He treated people remarkably well,” Porath said.

It was rare for Palmer to make it through a meal at Bay Hill without a fan stopping at his table to say hello. Palmer was always gracious, Porath said.

“He’d just engage them. He’d give them a big handshake,” Porath said.

Porath said he played golf with Palmer around a dozen times. The first time, Palmer joined Porath’s group to play Bay Hill’s back nine. With Palmer watching, Porath stepped to the tee and was shaking. Even in friendly rounds, Palmer showed the competitive streak that helped make him one of the best.

“He was really competitive, in a silly way. When you hit a good shot, he’d want to hit a better shot,” Porath said. “If he won two bucks from you, he was collecting.”

Toward the end of Porath’s time at Bay Hill, he played a round with Palmer. It was spring, and Palmer was preparing to head home to Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

“I hope you’ll enjoy this round we’re going to play today,” Palmer said.

“Thank you, Mr. Palmer,” Porath said.

“‘Cause it’s the last free one you’re going to get,” Palmer said, and Porath remembers he flashed that famous smile.

“He was quick to needle you, in a good way,” Porath said. “When he met with you and spoke with you, he had an amazing way to make you feel comfortable. He really made you feel like he wanted to hear what you had to say. I saw him do that with strangers and celebrities.”

A few years later, when he worked for Callaway, Porath was asked to bring a set of clubs to Palmer. He brought his wife Holly and daughter Jilian, then a toddler, along for the ride. When he arrived, Porath was told Palmer wasn’t in a good mood. He asked his wife to wait at the car with the baby, thinking it would be a quick stop.

When Palmer saw Porath, though, his face lit up. Palmer, an equipment junkie, wanted to try the clubs now. My wife and daughter are in the car, waiting for me, Porath said. Go get them, Palmer said.

“So there I am, trying out clubs with Mr. Palmer, and my daughter is in diapers, crawling around,” Porath said.

Porath and Palmer continued to cross paths over the years. The last time Porath saw Palmer was at The Masters five years ago. In March, Porath was at Bay Hill, catching up with old friends, including Palmer’s daughter. On other visits to Bay Hill, Porath was quickly urged to go to the office and say hello to Mr. Palmer. This time, he wasn’t.

“You heard he wasn’t doing well. That kind of proved it,” Porath said.

When he heard last Sunday night that Palmer had died, Porath reflected on all the good memories he had. He felt fortunate to have spent any time at all with Mr. Palmer.

“I got a seat, for a little while, at a very special table,” Porath said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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