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October 20, 1998|LARRY STEWART

What: "Arnold Palmer: Golf's Heart and Soul"

Where: The Golf Channel

When: Oct. 28 at 6 p.m.

This two-hour documentary is the most extraordinary production the Golf Channel has done in its four years. For starters, Arnold Palmer may be the best-liked, most charismatic golfer of all time. For another, he is co-founder and chairman of the board of the Golf Channel.

The show was two years in the making and just about everyone at the Golf Channel has been involved. It became a point of pride, and the result is a fascinating look at a fascinating man.

Before this, Palmer always remained pretty much in the background where the Golf Channel was concerned. "I did not want people to say that I used this as a personal media outlet to promote my own well-being or the well-being of my companies," he said recently.

He got talked into this documentary, but not without some reservations. "The people at the Golf Channel came up with the idea, and I was somewhat flattered," he said. "I suppose inside I'm looking forward to seeing it, but I'm also a little embarrassed, what with being the chairman. It's a double-barreled situation."

Said senior producer Jay Kossoff: "I don't think it was ever a question [whether to do the project or not]. With Arnold being who he is and us being devoted to golf, this documentary was imminent regardless of Arnold's involvement."

In some ways, Palmer's involvement with the Golf Channel was a positive.

"We have been let into places where maybe we wouldn't have been, and had access we may not have otherwise had," Kossoff said.

Said Palmer, "They interviewed almost everyone I have known over the last 40 years."

That includes the late Jim Murray, who had this to say about Palmer's unique swing: "Arnold went through all kinds of contortions in hitting the ball. I once wrote a line that said he looked like a drunk at a driving range at midnight. But the ball went straight and true."

Murray also says, "He had the charisma, he was available, and he was exciting. He was the attacker, the glamorous guy, the knockout guy, the home run hitter, the puncher, the guy with the 150-mph serve."

But maybe the best things come from Palmer himself. For example, he tells of a lifetime lesson learned from his father when he was 16 and playing in a junior tournament in Pittsburgh:

"On the 17th hole, I missed a putt that would have put me one up with one to play. As I missed the putt, I wheeled and threw the putter across and over a row of poplar trees. I had a pretty good arm."

On the way home, he was greeted by silence from his father, who Palmer quotes as finally saying, " 'If you ever throw another golf club like that in my presence, or while you live in my house, you will never play the game of golf again.' "

In the making of this documentary, the Golf Channel faced the challenge of doing a positive yet honest piece, one that would captivate an audience but not offend the boss. The Golf Channel has succeeded on all counts. This film lives up to the Golf Channel's billing.

For those who don't get the Golf Channel--it is now seen in 19 million homes in the United States, with 500,000 added this month in the San Diego area--a video is available in a three-tape set for $79.95 by calling 800 TGC-7566, ext. 2000.

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