Arnold Palmer ranked among the most important figures in golf and sports history. His social impact on behalf of the game was perhaps unrivaled among fellow professionals; his humble background and plain-spoken popularity helped change the perception of golf as an elite, upper-class pastime to a more democratic accessibility for the working class. He was at ease with presidents and the public. He leaves behind a gallery known as Arnie’s Army, which began at Augusta National with a small group of soldiers from nearby Fort Gordon, and grew to include a legion of fans from every corner of the globe. His rivalry with Jack Nicholas was legendary. Beyond the game, Palmer was a pioneer in sports marketing, paving the way for scores of athletes to reap in millions of dollars from endorsements. Four decades after his last PGA Tour win, he ranked among the highest-earners in golf. ARNOLD PALMER —>
Palmer was a product of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the oldest of four children. His father, Deacon, became the greens-keeper at Latrobe Country Club in 1921, and the club pro in 1933. Arnie joined the PGA Tour in 1955, and won the Canadian Open for the first of his 62 titles. He won four green jackets at Augusta National, along with the British Open in 1961 and 1962, and the U.S. Open in 1960, perhaps the most memorable of his seven majors. Only four other players won more PGA Tour events than Palmer — Nicklaus, Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, and Ben Hogan.
Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event every season for 52 consecutive years, ending with the 2004 Masters. He spearheaded the growth of the 50-and-older Champions Tour; winning 10 times, and drawing some of the biggest crowds. He was equally successful with golf course design, a wine collection, and apparel that included his famous logo of an umbrella. He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge upon making his winter home in Orlando, Florida, and in 2007, the PGA Tour changed the name of their tournament to the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And, Arnie treated the gallery with such respect, looking everyone in the eye with a smile and a wink. He signed every autograph, making sure it was legible. He made every fan feel like an old friend.
Even after he formally retired, Palmer’s image was everywhere, from motor oil and ketchup. to financial services companies. Even as late as 2011, nearly 40 years after his last PGA Tour win, Palmer was #3 on Golf Digest’s list of top earners at $36 million a year. He trailed only Woods and Phil Mickelson. Meanwhile, at any bar in the United States, the combination of iced tea and lemonade is known as an Arnold Palmer. Only Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers was also branded this unique honor.
Palmer won the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998; and in 1974, he was one of the 13 original inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004; and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pennsylvania is named for him. There is a statue of Palmer holding a golf club in front of the airport’s entrance, unveiled in 2007. An avid pilot for over 50 years, he logged nearly 20,000 hours of flight time in various aircraft.
Known simply as The King, the affable Arnold Palmer was 87.
Until next time> “never forget”