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.

A la cart

Competitors cannot use golf carts for this event. However, the USGA has made a provision for carts to take the players from the ninth green to the 10th tee and from the No. 12 green to the No. 13 tee in an effort to maintain a steady pace of play.

Which is the better slam?

Tennis and golf are known for their Grand Slams. Tennis has the Australian, Wimbledon, French and U.S. Open. Golf's foursome includes the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.

With all the talk of Tiger Woods shooting to win all four of golf's major tournaments in a calendar year, it begs the question: Which slam is harder to win?

Senior Tour member Frank Conner is well-suited to answer that question. He is one of only two people to play the U.S. Open in both golf and tennis (the other is Ellsworth Vines). Conner, who was a member of the junior Davis Cup team and an All-American tennis player at Trinity (Texas) University, played in the U.S. Open at Forest Hills in 1966 and 1967.

Conner picked up golf at age 24 and has played in several U.S. Opens, as well as six Senior Opens. He believes golf's Grand Slam is more challenging.

"With the majors, you are playing on different golf courses. Tennis is played on different surfaces, but every tennis court you play on has the same dimensions," Conner said. "All the golf courses are different in length and different playing conditions, like the British.

"For example, there are certain courses that suit Tiger Woods' game, but there are some courses that he can't use [a] driver on some holes, so he has to account for that."

Several years ago, Conner began writing a book with Al Barkow called "Golf at Centre Court," which examined the similarities between golf and tennis. Although the book was never published, Conner points out many comparisons between the two sports.

"A drop volley is a lot like a bunker shot and the tee shot is a lot like hitting a forehand because you are shifting your weight right to left," Conner said. "Plus, technology and new equipment have changed the way both sports are being played."

Cigar aficionados

Some golf enthusiasts argue that a smooth cigar goes hand-in-hand with a round of golf. Jim Thorpe, John Jacobs and Conner -- to name a few -- usually enjoy a stogie on the range or even during a round. But Jacobs says there are people who get a little steamed about him smoking on the course.

"I get letters from a lot of parents who take offense to it," says Jacobs, who tries not to be photographed or do a TV spot with a cigar. "I'm not proud of the fact I smoke, but I'm too old to do things any differently."

Tee for three

Some tee times for players of interest tomorrow:

8:25 a.m. (1st tee) – Fuzzy Zoeller, Tom Watson, Jim Thorpe.

8:35 a.m. (1st tee) – Hugh Baiocchi, Bruce Summerhays, David Stockton.

12:55 p.m. (1st tee) - Arnold Palmer, Dale Douglass, Larry Laoretti

1:05 p.m. (1st tee) – Larry Nelson, Raymond Floyd, Jay Sigel.

1:25 p.m. (1st tee) – Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin.

1:35 p.m. (1st tee) – Allen Doyle, Don Pooley, Tom Kite.