By Ron Sirak
ORLANDO, FLA. -- Toward the end of our chat in the offices of Arnold Palmer Design, an aide to Palmer brought in an iPhone cover with the multicolored umbrella logo and handed it to Kate Upton, who erupted with the kind of enthusiastic "Yes!" you'd expect from someone just a year removed from being a teenager.
Clearly, the week Upton had spent at the Bay Hill Resort & Lodge during the Arnold Palmer Invitational led her to appreciate the brilliant job Palmer and his agent at International Management Group, Alastair Johnston, have done building the Palmer brand.
Just as clearly, even a brief chat with Upton reveals her as a sharp woman with a keen sense of humor and with designs to be more than just another pretty face.
"He is so down to earth, so nice," Upton said about Palmer on Friday at the Bay Hill. "He is able to sit in any situation and talk with anyone. I hope to be like that. I've always wanted to meet Arnold. He's a legend in more than golf."
The meeting came about in part because Upton's agent at IMG is Lisa Benson, a native of Punxsutawney, Pa., which is right in the Western Pennsylvania wheelhouse of Arnie's Army. Benson also played college golf for two-and-a-half years at Penn State.
"She wants to be more than just a model," Benson said about Upton. "The other day she said, 'I want a soap with an umbrella on it,'" referring to the distinctive Palmer logo. At the rate she is going, an Upton logo might not be too far in the future.
"There couldn't be two more different people," said Johnston, the vice chairman of IMG who has been handling Palmer's business affairs for decades. "A 20-year-old supermodel and an 83-year-old icon," He said, smiling as he shook his head. "But they hit it off."
And Palmer could not have been more impressed with Upton, who does take you back in the way she shatters any stereotype you might have about models with her insight and sharp wit.
"She's a very astute young lady," Palmer said. "She's with it. She's interested in the hospital. She has a great grasp of what she wants to do with her career. I enjoyed talking with her about many different things. She's very sharp."
Upton's visit to the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies affected her as much as her time with Palmer affected her.
"It is an absolutely amazing place," Upton said. "It's odd to say a hospital is a beautiful place, but it truly is. And they are doing such great work there."
Part of what Upton discussed with Palmer was how to build a brand and how to extend it. No one has done that better than Palmer.
While Palmer is rightly credited for putting the British Open back on the map when he played there in 1960, perhaps the under appreciated aspect of that trip was that Mark McCormack, founder of IMG, realized playing there would extend Palmer's brand globally.
"The international language is sport," Johnston said. "Mark identified that at an early time. That's the legacy he has."
At one point, as Johnston described how impressed Palmer was with Upton during a dinner conversation, hanging on every word, Kate interrupted and said: "What, you weren't interested in what I was saying?"
Johnston shook his head and said, 'That's the way she's been all week." That's the way she was during our chat -- funny and one step ahead of the conversation.
Now that Upton has met the King are golf lessons next? "I grew up in a family that loved golf," the Melbourne, Fla., native said. "Maybe one of these days I'll play."
In the meantime, she's gotten some marketing messages from Palmer, who's always been the King in the business world as much as he has been on the golf course. That's an area where Palmer is the true supermodel.