You could listen to him all day. And you get the feeling he wouldn’t mind talking that long.
At an age when many men don’t take phone calls and consider going to the mailbox to be work, Charlie Mechem continues to put the ‘r’ in renaissance man. When you read and hear what he’s done in his life, you almost can’t believe it. Anyone with a third of Mechem’s professional accomplishments would consider himself a man in full.
He graduated from Yale Law School in 1955 and practiced at a prestigious firm for a dozen years with a brief interruption to serve his country in the Judge Advocate General Corps. Then he was the CEO of Taft Broadcasting Company, a Cincinnati-based multimedia company founded by the brother of President William Howard Taft.
After 22 years running a media organization while keeping his law license current, Charlie invested in another passion of his, becoming the much-beloved commissioner of the LPGA, a position he held for five years.
Following his retirement, Mechem continued to advise his successors, including Ty Votaw, Mike Whan and, most recently, Mollie Marcoux Samaan. He also served on numerous boards, spending more than a quarter of a century as a director of the JM Smucker Company for one. And if that wasn’t enough, Charlie counted the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, as a close friend.
Anyone else could have ridden that resume into the sunset. But not Charlie. He now has a podcast and continues to play golf, showing up periodically on the tee sheet at LPGA pro-ams. And he has written a book about two of his dearest friends in life – Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
It turns out that Nicklaus was one of the first people Charlie called when he was offered the LPGA commissionership. They had known each other for decades and Charlie trusted Jack’s judgment. After leaving the LPGA, Charlie then went on to work as an advisor for Mr. Palmer, even sharing an office with Arnie at Bay Hill for a decade and being the main speaker at his funeral.
Whenever the two were in the office together, Mr. Palmer would say, “Charlie, am I broke?” to which Mechem would reply, “Not yet, Arnie.” For the record, the day Mr. Palmer passed away he was the third-richest athlete in history behind Tiger Woods and Michael Jordon.
The book is called “Arnie and Jack: Stories of My Lifelong Friendship with Two Remarkable Men.”
“The way it started, about a year and a half ago, the president of our club out here said,‘ You know Charlie, you may be one of the only people or the only person who had a close personal relationship with Jack and Arnie at the same time, ‘”Mechem said last Tuesday, the day the book officially launched. “I said, ‘You may be right.’ He asked me to give a talk to the membership about some of my memories and stories of being with those men. I did that, and then I was encouraged to write a book. ”
Filled with anecdotes and photographs, most never before heard or seen, the book is a trip down memory lane with two of the most iconic sports figures of all time. There are stories of Jack and Arnie’s interactions with other figures from presidents to people on the street.
In one, Arnie runs into Annika Sorenstam not long after Annika announced her intention to play in the Colonial National Invitational on the PGA Tour. Arnie’s only question was: “Why?” Annika didn’t understand what he meant. It took Charlie intervening to explain Sorenstam’s thinking to Mr. Palmer.
“For the most part, they are stories that only I know,” Mechem said. “I shared an office with Arnie for 10 years after I left the LPGA. And every few weeks I would travel down I-95 to spend time with Jack. As I was getting ready to leave one day Arnie said, ‘Tell Jack hello.’ So, I go to Jack’s office and said, ‘Arnie sends his best.’ Jack says, ‘How’s he doing?’ and I tell him that he’s doing fine. Then Jack says, ‘Does he still play golf every day?’ I said, ‘He sure does, either in the shootout or with friends or he’s on the range.’ Jack just shook his head like he couldn’t believe it.
“The next day, I’m back at Bay Hill and said, ‘Jack sends his best, Arnie.’ Arnie said, ‘Oh, great. Say, is he playing much golf? ‘ I said, ‘No, he’s not playing much golf at all. Hardly any. ‘ Arnie shook his head and said, ‘Charlie, what the hell does he do all day?’ ”
The book is filled with gems like that. Another one involved Arnie’s second marriage after the passing of his beloved Winnie.
“When Arnie and Kit got married, they were in Hawaii and called to tell me. I was thrilled for them. When Kit got on the phone, she told me this great story. She had found this justice of the peace, a Japanese lady, out in the wilds of Hawaii to marry them. She had warned Arnie that the woman probably wouldn’t have any idea who he was. But then Kit said after the ceremony, the JP turned to her and said, ‘Lady, you don’t know how lucky you are.’ They all got a big kick out of that. ”
Readers too will get a kick out of the details Mechem shares. But at least as important, he confirms Arnie and Jack’s friendship with each other.
“That’s a question I deal with in some depth because it’s a question I get most frequently: Were they really friends?” he said. “I go a long way to prove that the answer is, yes. And as the years went by, that friendship deepened. ”
If you are a fan of the game, you walk away from this book admiring Arnie and Jack even more than before. But more importantly, you walk away shaking your head in awe at the author. What a life Charlie Mechem has led. He remains an inspiration to all who know him.