Graeme McDowell helping at Bay Hill
Graeme McDowell had a week to remember when he played Bay Hill for the first time in 2005. He tied for second, picked up enough world ranking points to qualify for his first Masters and finally had a chance to meet Arnold Palmer.
McDowell could not have imagined where that would lead.
He was selected along with Curtis Strange, Peter Jacobsen, Annika Sorenstam and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to serve as hosts of the Arnold Palmer Invitational next month, the first one without The King.
''It's an honor to be part of this,'' McDowell said. ''We'll be taking some of Arnie's responsibilities for the week and representing him, which is impossible to do. How are you supposed to do that? It's impossible to fill those shoes. It's a massive void.''
Palmer, one of the most important figures in golf history, died in September.
The hosts will take on some of the traditional roles Palmer had during the week, whether that's greeting players and guests, hosting pro-am parties and presenting the trophy on Sunday. There also are plans for a ceremony on Wednesday, March 15, on the driving range to honor Palmer.
McDowell is different from the hosts in one respect - he's still playing. He said Palmer's daughter, Amy Saunders, told him he could pass because of the busy week he would face as a player. That didn't bother McDowell, the 37-year-old from Northern Ireland who won the U.S. Open in 2010.
''This is probably more of my home event than the Irish Open these days,'' McDowell said.
He has made his home at Lake Nona for a dozen years. His wife, Kristen, is an Orlando native and their two children were born at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. McDowell also has a restaurant called ''Nona Blue.''
''If I could have one-hundredth, just a fraction, of the impact in Orlando that he had, I'd be proud of myself,'' McDowell said. ''That's why I want to be part of it. 'Representing' is the wrong expression. It's honoring him and taking the tournament forward.''
One of the ideas McDowell suggested during a December meeting involved the colorful umbrella, which was Palmer's logo. His idea was to make a template of the umbrella to send to clothing companies so they would have the option of stitching it into a player's apparel for the week.