Rickie Fowler sports spikes at Bay Hill paying homage to Arnold Palmer

A look at the high-tops that Fowler will wear this week at Bay Hill. (Courtesy of Puma)

The first Arnold Palmer Invitational since The King’s death was sure to be rich with tributes to the seven-time major winner.

But it’s hard to envision a cooler homage than Rickie Fowler’s new footwear.

His sponsor, Puma, constructed two pairs of handmade shoes to honor Palmer.

The sides are adorned with photo collages of Palmer. The Velcro strap features a laser-engraving of his signature and the iconic umbrella logo.

A quote from Fowler on Palmer’s influence is found behind the tongue of the right shoe and reads: “Legends never die. You will live on forever Arnie. I will never forget the bear hug in front of the clubhouse at Augusta, watching you hit your final tee shot there, and to spending time with you in the locker room at Bay Hill. Thank you for being you and giving me the opportunity to do what I get to do everyday! I love you as did everyone! RIP The King.”

According to a news release, two pairs of the Puma Golf Hi-Top were made. Fowler will wear one pair as he plays. He’ll autograph the other so it can be auctioned off to support Palmer’s charity, Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation. The ebay bid was up to $10,300 as of Friday morning.

“To have the shoes, something different, it’s kind of a collage of Arnie through his years of golf,” Fowler told USA Today. “So it’s pretty cool. I told some people I’m not sure if I’m going to take them off. I had to put them on last night to lace them up properly and make sure they were good to go for this morning. It’s going to be a special week and I’m glad I was able to put a couple things together and as well as my sponsors stepping up as well.”

Jack Nicklaus, age 77, shoots 71 at Ernie Els charity event

Patrons watch as Jack Nicklaus celebrates his hole-in-one on the fourth hole during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

In case you were wondering, Jack Nicklaus is still really good at golf.

Maybe even too good.

The Golden Bear recently took part in the “Els for Autism” Pro-Am Golf Tournament at the Old Palm Golf Club. Several tour pros participated, including Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas. The event itself raised more than $1 million for the Els for Autism Foundation, which aims to improve the understanding of, awareness of and development of programs for autistic people.

But Nicklaus — nearly two months removed from his 77th birthday — stole the show by shooting a 71. It might have been even better than he wanted.

“Just when I was getting my handicap up there, I had to go and not only shoot just my second round under 80 since November, but better my age by six shots with a 71,” Nicklaus wrote on Instagram. “But seriously, it was a great day for golf and for raising needed money for the incredible work that my friends Ernie and Liezl Els do to bring attention and support for the estimated 1 in 68 children in the U.S. with autism. 

“I’m delighted I could join the big-hearted amateurs and pros in the 9th annual Els for Autism Pro-Am. I just don’t recall getting a trophy this big for any second-place finishes in my career!”

Isn’t there a rule that any 77-year-old who shoots a 71 automatically gets a first-place trophy? If there isn’t, can someone get started drafting one up?

In the meantime, we’ll appreciate an all-time great continuing to add to his legend.

Stricker: I don’t think Tiger’s doing that well right now physically

Steve Stricker of the United States talks with Tiger Woods of the United States during a practice round prior to the start of the 96th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on August 6, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Everyone seems to have an opinion on the present and future of Tiger Woods.

Few are likely to be as informed on the subject as Steve Stricker, who has partnered with Woods in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Stricker has even heard from Woods since the 14-time major winner has been sidelined with back spasms, which puts Stricker in exclusive company.

The problem is, what he’s hearing isn’t good.

“He’s working hard at it, but I don’t think he’s doing that well right now physically,” Sticker said, according to Golf Channel.

Woods missed 15 months after multiple back surgeries, before returning at the Hero World Challenge in December. He had an ambitious plan to start 2017 by playing four events in five weeks, but he totaled only three rounds. He missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open, withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic after one round and skipped both the Genesis Open and Honda Classic.

Stricker said Woods’ 77 at Dubai was clear evidence of his ailments.

“Just the way he was walking didn’t quite look right,” Stricker said. “He was walking really gingerly. It didn’t really look physically like he was ready to play.”

It remains unclear when Woods will be ready for his return.

He announced last Thursday in a statement he will miss this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, while adding even he isn’t sure how long he will be out of action.

“Unfortunately, due to ongoing rest and rehabilitation on my back, I won’t be able to play in this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational,” Wood said. “I’m especially disappointed because I wanted to be at Bay Hill to help Arnold. … Presently, I have no timetable for my return to golf, but my treatments are continuing and going well.”

Jack Nicklaus ‘puzzled’ by Tiger Woods’ recent struggles, injuries

This June 3, 2012, file photo shows Jack Nicklaus, left, and Tiger Woods talking after Woods won the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.  Nicklaus says he was "painting a picture" when he suggested after a practice round with Tiger Woods at the 1996 Masters that Woods had the game to win at least 10 green jackets. He referred to Woods as a "puzzle" on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Honda Classic. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)
This June 3, 2012, file photo shows Jack Nicklaus, left, and Tiger Woods talking after Woods won the Memorial golf tournament at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. Nicklaus referred to Woods as a “puzzle” on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, at the Honda Classic. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Jack Nicklaus seems like the perfect person to diagnose Tiger Woods’ golf problems.

The Golden Bear is the only one ahead of Woods on the all-time majors wins list. But that hasn’t given Nicklaus a better feel for Woods’ struggles than anyone else.

“I’m a bit puzzled by it,” Nicklaus told NBC at the Honda Classic on Sunday. “I’ve seen Tiger a little bit in the last several months, but he looked great. Physically, he looks fantastic. Mentally, he’s talking. He sounded great.

“Then he goes and plays and he either physically can’t make it — maybe mentally and physically they work together. I don’t really know. I’m not sure if anyone knows. It’s sad to me because he’s such a great talent. He’s a good kid. He’s got so much ability. I’m sad to see it happen to him. I hope he gets it corrected.”

Woods once appeared destined to break — and possibly shatter — Nicklaus’ career mark of 18 majors.

Woods was 32 when he captured major No. 14, claiming the 2008 U.S. Open after a 19-hole playoff thriller with Rocco Mediate. Nicklaus got his 14th at age 35, a two-stroke victory at the 1975 PGA Championship.

But Woods hasn’t added to his major collection since.

He went from August 2015 to January without playing due to back issues, then promptly missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. Back spasms forced him to withdraw after one round at the Dubai Desert Classic and kept him out of the Genesis Open, the Honda Classic and even a scheduled press conference.

“That is the biggest puzzle to me that I know,” Nicklaus said. “I just don’t know where he is and where his mind is.”