POULSBO — The older golfer watched carefully as Ron Mimaki tried to get himself out of trouble.
It was a beautiful Orlando day, custom-ordered for golf. Mimaki had a pretty good day on the Bay Hill course — one of the best in the country — but he found himself in trouble on the 18th green, or rather, just short of the green.
His second shot had landed just short of the green, plopping in the water short of a stone embankment.
The older golfer had pointed to the ball, his white golf gloves flapping in his hand; he wanted Mimaki to try to splash it out of the water.
So Mimaki, thankful he was wearing his Gore-Tex shoes, waded into the pond. He carried a Ping club with him.
He didn’t want to hit the ball too hard, recalled Mimaki, who works at Poulsbo’s Kitsap Physical Therapy.
“If I hit those rocks, the ball would have come right back at me and I would have ate it,” he said.
So instead he took a careful, slow swing, and watched as the ball cleared the embankment, rolled toward the hole, and died just short of it.
Mimaki climbed, grinning, out of the water. His shoes sloshed.
The older man smiled at him.
“Nice shot,” said Arnold Palmer.
Mimaki, who lives in East Bremerton, recently got a chance as rare as a hole-in-one. His wife entered a contest on the Internet sponsored by CaPcure, an organization affiliated with the PGA tour dedicated to finding treatment and cure for prostate cancer.
Mimaki’s wife, Stephanie, had to guess the number of birdies on a certain day on the Senior PGA tour.
She guessed right. Both the Mimakis got an expense-paid trip to Florida, and Ron received a list of Senior PGA players with whom he could play golf.
One name stood out: Palmer’s.
“Who’s better than the king?” Mimaki said later.
So he packed his Pings, his Nike golf balls, and he and Stephanie flew to Orlando.
Mimaki plays golf about four or five times a year. He shoots in the mid 90s.
He played in high school, a career he chides by saying, “It was more like, “I bet I can hit it farther than that tree over there!’”
He and Stephanie flew into Orlando on Feb. 11.
On Monday they visited Epcot Center.
On Tuesday, they got to visit another kind of institution.
Mimaki arrived early for the 9 a.m. tee time. He warmed up. Stephanie had brought a video camera, and the two of them met the other two players who would join them and Palmer.
Then came the announcement. It came over the loudspeaker:
“Now on the first tee,” it intoned, “Arnold Palmer and Ron Mimaki…”
As soon as the loudspeaker spoke, a crowd gathered.
“People came from the parking lot, from the driving range … I had to push my way through all those people just to get to the first tee,” Mimaki said. “I tried now to look back. If I had looked back and saw 50 or 60 people I would have whiffed for sure.”
Palmer, Mimaki, and the other two contest winners teed up. They started playing the course (which Palmer owns), and chatted as they did.
Palmer asked the golfers about themselves. He jibed Mimaki about using Nike golf balls (Palmer used Calloways). He was polite.
“He could have been your uncle or your dad,” Mimaki said. “it was like being with one of your buddies, golfing.”
(At press time, none of Mimaki’s other buddies had won 61 PGA events, won the Masters four times, or been named “Athlete of the Decade” by the Associated Press.)
Mimaki made a good impression on the seventh hole (197 yards, par 3) when he stepped up and drove the ball towards the pin.
The ball rose. It sailed.
The others began shouting.
It landed four feet from the pin.
Later, as Mimaki was crouched over his putt for a birdie, he was stuck with a crisis of conscience.
“I couldn’t fathom that I was going to get a birdie, and Mr. Palmer had boagied it,” Mimaki said.
As he swept the putter back, he recalls, it shuddered and shook.
He missed the putt.
Despite the putt, Mimaki beat Palmer on the hole. He had a pretty good day (although Palmer outdrove him on every hole), shooting a 98.
Afterwards, he, Palmer, and the other two guests had lunch — Palmer’s treat — at the clubhouse.
Mimaki ordered soup. He had chipped a tooth the night before, and when he explained to Palmer that the cracked tooth was the reason he ordered soup, the golf legend showed concern.
“I feel like, if I had asked him, Mr. Palmer would have arranged to find me a dentist,” Mimaki said. “It was so amazing to meet an athlete like that. He was such a wonderful host.”
Palmer signed a golf ball for Mimaki’s daughter, a yardage chart for his son, and a book for Mimaki.
Stephanie took a video, and in it every moment is preserved: Palmer’s punchlines, Mimaki’s shot from the water, and Mimaki’s near hole-in-one.
“He was such a gentleman,” Mimaki said. “That makes me a bigger fan than I was.”
Even though his golfing with Palmer was over Tuesday afternoon, Mimaki wasn’t done on the links. He and Stephanie went to a miniature golf course that evening.