Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer signs an autograph after finishing his practice round Wednesday at Caves Valley, site of this week's U.S. Senior Open. (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby / June 26, 2002)

Arnold Palmer may not be at the top of his golf game, but The King still has plenty of shots left.

At 72, golf's longtime abassador is teeing it up this week at the U.S. Senior Open at Caves Valley Country Club.

Several competitors this week have talked about the difficulty of walking the 7,005-yard, par-71 course designed by Tom Fazio. The players have also worked up a good sweat banging balls on the practice range in the 90-degree heat.

All heat, humidity and steep uphill climbs aside, Palmer isn't making any excuses.

"We are athletes," said Palmer, who has missed the cut in the last three Senior Opens he has played. "When you start complaining about walking and the heat and the humidity, the hell with that. Just go home, sit in front of the TV and have a beer."

Well played, Arnie.

Palmer has played in every U.S. Senior Open since the event began in 1980. He won't say how much longer he'll keep that streak alive, but he stands by his love of the game and the support of loyal fans who fuel his desire to compete.

"I really thought maybe this year I wouldn't play much at all, and I haven't at this point. I have made some commitments and I will keep those commitments if the heat and humidity don't kill me," Palmer said. "But I'll tell you what, if the heat and humidity kills me this week, it's the best way I know to die."

Palmer also had high praise for Caves Valley.

"I've played this course a number of times," he said, "and it's as good a Senior Open course as anywhere I've played.

"The golf course is tremendous. The fairways are generous. The greens are very good, and they're going to be very fast.

"I have not a problem in this world with this golf course and the long-finishing holes. I think they're very, very good. And I think the golf course is very, very good."

No regrets for Fleisher

Defending U.S. Senior Open champ Bruce Fleisher still stands by his decision to not play the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park earlier this month. By playing a Senior Tour event in Nashville that same week, Fleisher found out during a routine physical there that he needs to go undergo some tests for prostate cancer.

"I think there is a reason for everything. To be quite frank, and we’ll make this short: I saw the course, I thought it was unplayable for my game. I was willing to pass my spot on to some young, aspiring golf professional," said Fleisher, who's 53. "I understand where Hale [Irwin] and [Tom] Kite were coming from. I think in their hearts, they felt I would be a wonderful representative of the Senior Tour. But it was my choice, it wasn’t theirs, and you have to respect it."

Fleisher said he plans to address his medical situation next week. In the meantime, he says his health is not going to be a distraction.

"I plan on going in Monday after this week and having some work done, and I'll let you know. I really can't say. As far as thinking about it, no," Fleisher said. "I'm thinking the best, you know. And the attitude certainly is going to get me through this week."

Fleisher begins his title defense on the 10th tee tomorrow at 1:15 p.m.

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