Broad-shouldered and tanned the colour of a No. 1 wood, Arnold Palmer arrived in Auckland yesterday announcing that his days in golf were not numbered and that he was hitting the ball as well as ever.
"I think I just definitely am hitting it as well," said Palmer. "My slight deterioration in play on the American circuit over the last year or two has been due to lack of concentration.
"For example, on Sunday I finished equal second in the Sahara invitation tournament in Las Vegas and one of my four rounds was an 80.
"My putting this year has let me down. Certainly I have had great putting rounds but on an average it has not been up to my best.
"My main objective in golf is still the Grand Slam - winning the British Open, United States Open, the Masters, and the United States PGA tournament in the same year."
Palmer is the the greatest money-winner in golfing history, arrived yesterday with R.J Charles to start their week-long Benson and Hedges New Zealand exhibition tour.
Both were accompanied by their business manager, Mr M. McCormack, and Charles brought his South African wife, Verity, and their nine-month old daughter, Beverly.
This morning the group will leave for Dunedin where an exhibition match will be played at Balmacewan tomorrow.
On Thursday, Palmer and Charles will continue their stroke-play contest at the Shirley course, Christchurch, then at Miramar, Wellington, on Saturday, and finally at Middlemore on Sunday.
For both golfers, the New Zealand tour will mean missing the Haig and Haig foursomes tournament and the Hawaiian Open, but the American said yesterday that he had always wanted to visit New Zealand.
So far this year, he has flown nearly 120,000 miles and won nearly as many dollars. His official tournament prize money stands at approximately $90,000.
Palmer holds a privte pilot's licence and flies himself to the various tournaments. "I enoy flying very much. It is my hobby."
Commenting on the ever-growing problem of slow play, Palmer said that it should take a golfer no longer thatn four hours at the most.
"It is a shame that slow play has become as wide-spread as it has. Certainly the course can influence the time of play but a round lasting over four hours is bad on any course."
Charles said that he intended to play the full New Zealand professional circuit and would holiday in New Zealand before returning to the United States.
"My game this year has not gone as well as I would have liked. Generally my short game around and on the green is not what it was when I first turned professional.
"However, a few new features have crept into my game uncounsciously and these may be noticeable to those who saw me in New Zealand last year."