WHEN news of the passing of Arnold Palmer broke Monday morning it touched a special chord with Links Shell Cove Golf Operations Manager Peter Nascimento.
The now 29-year-old had taken a keen interest in ‘The King’ for the past 12 years after being chosen to caddy for the golf legend at an exhibition match at the 2004 Australian Open as a teenager.
A talented player from the Illawarra area, Nascimento was a standout in the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation and, unbeknown to him, had been chosen for the opportunity to caddy for Palmer at the Australian.
A nine-hole exhibition match had been organised to celebrate the centenary of the tournament and Palmer would play with Australian legends Peter Thomson and Bruce Devlin.
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It was the opportunity of a lifetime for a budding player but it almost never happened, Nascimento initially believing the offer was a hoax.
“Lynne Whitehouse was running the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation at the time and obviously I was playing a lot of their events and doing quite well,” he recalls.
“Anyway, she gave me a call and at first I didn’t believe her and thought it was a wind up from my mates so I sort of laughed and hung up.
“Then I thought about it for a couple of minutes and thought I’d better ring her back and check and sure enough it was a genuine offer so I jumped at it.”
"To Peter, Thanks for a great job. Arnold Palmer"
Nascimento has vivid memories of the day and carrying Palmer’s ‘unbelievably heavy’ bag.
“It was pretty amazing,” he says. “I knew Arnold Palmer was a big name but I probably didn’t know as much about him as I should have at the time.
“But when I saw the crowds that had come out to see him it became obvious pretty quickly what a star he was.”
Nascimento says Palmer couldn’t have been nicer to him, one moment standing out in his memory from the day.
“I can’t remember the exact hole because The Australian has changed a lot since then but it was a par-3 over water,” he said.
“We get to the tee and everybody’s watching him and he turns around and says to me ‘What do you think I should hit?’
“I was thinking ‘Oh God, I don’t want him to hit it in the water’ so I tell him I think he should hit the 4-iron and he looks at me and says ‘4-iron?’ and I say ‘yep definitely.’
“Anyway he tees it up and just smashes it. It’s going straight at the pin and then it goes right over the top of the pin and keeps going over the back of the green..
“He just turned around and handed me the club - and I’ll never forget this - he just looked at me and said ‘Well, should have hit the 5-iron, Peter!”
Nascimento says he still feels the opportunity to carry Palmer’s bag – in the company of Thomson and Devlin – is one of his greatest golf memories and something he doesn't take for granted.
“I don’t take the opportunity for granted and it’s a fond memory and a great one to tell the grandkids,” he says of the hours he spent with Palmer that day.
“I sent him a photo that had been taken on the day and he signed it and sent it back which he didn’t have to do and that was sort of an indication of the sort of person he was.
“He had a real aura about him but he couldn’t have been nicer or put you more at ease and it really was a great fun day.
“He was just out there really enjoying the golf and what was obvious was he loves the game.”