By: Will Burchfield
Jim Caldwell didn’t smile often during Monday’s press conference following the Lions’ 34-27 loss to the Packers on Sunday, but one question brought a twinkle to his eye.
Had Caldwell, formerly the coach at Wake Forest University, ever met Arnold Palmer, formerly a Wake Forest student?
Palmer, one of the greatest golfers ever, passed away on Sunday. He was 87.
Caldwell nodded as the question was asked and a smile formed at the corner of his lips as he began to answer.
“I had a chance a chance to meet him on several occasions, and probably the best way I can describe him is a gentleman’s gentleman in every single phase of his life.
“He was one of those guys that even before I had an opportunity to meet him, I heard the alumni and administration talk about him often. Obviously he’s a beloved figure, in that area, at the school, and every time I had a chance to meet with him he was great to talk to. He had just a number of great stories and just a great sense of humor, but then also a great person as well,” Caldwell said.
It’s a sentiment that has been echoed across the country – indeed, across the world – in the wake of Palmer’s death. As strong an impact as he made on the golf course, it seems Palmer touched even more lives off it. Larger-than-life yet impossibly down-to-earth, he was a superstar for everyone.
Hence his nickname: The King.
Palmer is often acknowledged as the man who brought golf to the masses. The sport became increasingly popular upon his arrival, in large part because of Palmer’s magnetic personality and thrilling style of play. He took to a buttoned-up game with uncommon vigor.
Caldwell, a golf enthusiast himself, was asked if he ever had the chance to hit the links with the sport’s greatest ambassador.
“My game is not nearly anywhere remotely close to being able to do that,” Caldwell laughed. “The only thing I took from him is he used to always say that whenever you are on the first tee, you should hit ‘till you’re happy. So I try to use that as much as I possibly can.”
Caldwell kept his comments brief on Monday. It was a short, unrevealing press conference. But the mood brightened, at least for a moment, when he reflected on a sportsman who will live on forever.