My Brush with Arnold Palmer.
On the morning of June 17, 1973, my father wakes me up, an hour before dawn. He needs me to go with him to a job site. This was not unusual for my father to take me with him to a job site on Sunday Mornings.
My father made sure the Construction Equipment was in working order for our family owned Dan Sciullo Construction Company. From Easter through Thanksgiving we worked. Winters were long and cold. Even though I was only 12 years old I was able body enough to help my dad and shorten his work day.
After a quick stop to “The Yard” in Blawnox to pick up the “Good” pickup, off we went. In no time at all, we pulled up to the Security Gate at Oakmont Country Club. The Security Guard welcomed my Dad as if he were an old friend. “Thank God you’re here Big Jim”, gleamed the Security Guard.
Overnight, the Heavens opened and the rains poured. Walking to the Green on the Finishing 18th Hole the General Motors Corporation built an artificial lake complete with a Red 1974 Cadillac Coupe de Ville revolving on a platform. As the waters from the rain raised the water level in the lake. Only one man could deliver the solution the Officials from The PGA, Oakmont and General Motors needed, it was my Dad.
As the “Good” Truck pulled up to the Clubhouse we met with cheers and were ushered to drive directly onto the rough area beside the 18th Green and approach. The artificial lake was about to breach it’s banks and flood out hundreds of seats in the Grandstand Area.
My father pointed to a guy in a dark sweater, smoking a cigarette and standing on the breastworks of the man-made damn that created the tiny lake. He said, “Below that guy is a set of 14’s, tell me when that start to blow”. That meant that there were 2 14″ Pipes attached to a Blow Out Valve to adjust the water level of the lake. “OK Dad”, I ran to the breastworks and spotted the 2 pipes and shouted, “Let Her Rip”. My father removed a long pole with a socket at the end and opened an access hole. At the bottom of the hole was the mechanism that raised and lowered the water valves in the pipes. I turn to the Guy in the dark sweater, smoking a cigarette and say, “You better step back mister, when this thing blows water goes everywhere”. “Don’t worry Kid”, he said, “I don’t think there’s enough water in this lake to drown a mouse”. Then he laughs. It was kinda funny considering all the PGA, GM and Course Official were running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
The water starts to rumble in the pipes. The guy in the Dark Sweater flips his cigarette in the lake and come over for a closer look. Just then the sun starts to come up over the trees and clubhouse and I see the guy in the sweater is none other than Arnold Palmer. I say, “I’m sorry Mister Palmer, I don’t know it was you”. He leans over to get a better look at the rumbling pipers and says, “What are you apologizing for, not laughing enough at my drowning a mouse joke”, then he just stands there and smiles. I look up and there he is in all his glory with a sun rising behind him, his great big smile and those laughing eyes. “We’re not allowed to talk to the golfers”. Arnold says, “Well this morning I’m not a golfer just yet, I’m just some guy that wanted to get a closer look at that Caddy.”
“OK, Mr. Palmer, hold on to something here she comes”. The water in the lake created a lot of pressure in the discharge pipes and when the discharge pipes drained into the culvert water would sometime splash like a geyser. The water shot up to about 8 Feet then slowly started to go down. “Wow”, said Arnold, “How long will it take to drain the lake?”. I explained that we were just going to lower the level a few inches. Here I was this 12-year-old kid, telling my hero Arnold Palmer what I was doing and how it worked. We turned to look at the lake and the Caddy at the center. “
“Really”, Arnold said, “That truck out there, is that your old man’s company?”. I nod my head. “Your name there Sciullo, that’s Italian Right.”
“Yep”, I say, “My Grandfather started that company. He didn’t even get here until the 1920’s and now my Uncle Angelo runs it. My Dad makes sure all the diggers and trucks are running so the guys don’t stand around on Monday morning drinking coffee”.
Arnold laughs and says, “Well kid, if you have the same work ethic like you dad over there, and with an Italian last name, a Cadillac is a “Right of Passage” for you.” then he laughs. Just then the Caddy starts to spin and creates a little splashing on the banks of the man-made lake. The PGA, GM and Greens Keepers shout for joy and run to my dad to shake his hand and pat him on the back.
“See that Kid”, Arnold points to my dad, “Those guys over there would not even bother to talk a fella like your dad just because he drives a truck and works with his hands”. “Because of your dad, hundreds of people are going to be able to stand here and watch the game. Nobody except, you, me and your dad will know what he did because the minute those guys go back into the Clubhouse they will be all giving themselves credit for saving the US Open.”
It wasn’t until many years later I knew what he was talking about. “Hey, do you know who you are playing with today?”, I asked.
“Yeah, sure”, Arnold turns his attention back to the Cadillac and replies, “But, if my luck holds up I just might take this thing home. Man, look at that Caddy, ain’t she a beauty?”. “Hey, why don’t you introduce me to your old man.”
I take Arnold over to meet my father and introduce him. He reaches out and shakes my dad’s hand and thanks my dad for saving the day. My dad just nods his head and Arnold smiles and says, “You got a good kid there, see you later kid”. Arnolds starts to walk toward the clubhouse then turns around for one last look at the Caddy, turns to me an says,”She’s a Beauty Alright”, then winks gives me a thumbs up and walks away.
We pulled out of the gate and the Head Greens Keeper thanked us again. As we left the parking lot my dad scolded me and said I never should have talked to that guy in the dark sweater. “All those people that were standing around were a bunch of phony’s. Don’t be like them son. They were happy to see me but none of them offered to let us stay to see the game or even offered us a cup of coffee. They all cheered and patted me on the back but not one of them thanked me or shook my hand, except the guy in the dark sweater. Be like him if you want to be like anybody, Phony’s”.
Arnold was confident when he headed to the Tee Box at the 1st Hole. Little did he know that history would be made that day. Some kid named Johnny Miller, who didn’t stand a chance of winning, shot a final round 63, 8 under par, to set a PGA Record Low Score at a U.S. Open, and finished at 5 strokes under par to win The US Open by one stroke.
Here is the Wiki about that Amazing Record-Setting Open: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_U.S._Open_(golf)
Here is a youtube video all about the 1973 US Open at Oakmont
That day turned out to be one of my best days.
- I talked to one of my Hero’s, Arnold Palmer. He gave me some good aadviceand I still quote him when I talk about getting a Cadillac that “It’s an Italian Right of Passage to own a Cadillac.”, and I try to thank anyone and everyone that helps me on a daily basis.
- I was in a truck that drove on the Fairways and I walked on the the fairway and greens of Oakmont County Club on the Final Day of Play for the US Open in my Puma Tennis Shoes.
- But the best thing was that I got to see my dad become a Hero to others. After all he was always my biggest hero.
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