Arnold Palmer, golf’s greatest ambassador and legend, is dead at the age of 87. He wasn’t just one of the best golfers of all time, he was a family man, philanthropist, businessman, airplane pilot, legend, inspiration, and friend. Palmer passed away Sunday in a Pittsburgh hospital of complications from heart problems. He was admitted on Thursday for some cardiovascular testing and diagnostics before becoming weaker over the weekend.
One of the things that made Arnold Palmer such a figure to be admired was his ability to relate to others. He was a man who was called a friend by celebrities and presidents, but never hesitated to stop and exchange a handshake and a few words with a fan. It didn’t matter if the person approaching him was a business mogul, politician or groundskeeper, Palmer was approachable and kind.
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) September 26, 2016
Arnold Palmer was the first golfer ever to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. Just prior to accepting it, he spent a few moments with President George W. Bush and even offered him a few golf tips in the East Room of the White House. Five years later, he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal and offered golf tips to some of the most important politicians in the country. He jokingly thanked the House and the Senate, saying that for once, they were able to agree on something. Without a doubt, they would all agree he will be greatly missed.
After receiving those awards, the highest civilian awards ever given in the United States, he went outside and signed autographs for hundreds of people. Palmer was a man who never forgot where he came from or who helped him reach the pinnacle of his success. His day at the U.S. Capitol left a deep impression. House Speaker John Boehner, an avid golfer, sang his praises.
“Arnold Palmer democratized golf, made us think that we, too, could go out and play. He made us think that we could really do anything, really. All we had to do was to go out and try. Arnold, you’ve struck our hearts and minds, and today your government, your fellow citizens are going to strike a gold medal for you.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Palmer, “Golf made you famous, but your tireless efforts to save lives, not your short game, will make you immortal.” Reid’s words were prophetic, in a sense, as his words were echoed in so many tributes already spoken in the hours since Palmer’s death.
One of the famous “Big Three,” along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Palmer won 62 titles on the PGA Tour, the final one being the 1973 Bob Hope Desert Classic. Four wins at the Masters, two at the British Open and one in the U.S. Open. The only major he was never able to win was the PGA Championship, but his other legendary victories led to his 1974 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Many a young golfer began to dream of a future on the PGA Tour while watching him on television. He filled the screen with the substance legends are made of. One of those young golfers was Tiger Woods.
“Arnold meant everything to golf. Are you kidding me? I mean, without his charisma, without his personality in conjunction with TV – it was just the perfect symbiotic growth. You finally had someone who had this charisma, and they’re capturing it on TV for the very first time. Everyone got hooked to the game of golf via TV because of Arnold.”
Arnold Palmer was immortalized in paintings, most famously by Eisenhower, his friend, and Norman Rockwell. His name is on an airport, a golf tournament, hospitals, streets, charities, and even a drink. The Arnold Palmer is a combination of iced tea and lemonade and is served in bars and restaurants, and even sold in grocery stores.
One of Palmer’s greatest claims-to-fame was his “Arnie’s Army,” a phrase coined by the Augusta local press, according to a report from USA Today. In 1960 at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, soldiers from nearby Camp Gordon followed Palmer. It wasn’t long before fans from all over the U.S. began to enlist in the armed services. Arnold himself served in the Coast Guard, according to NBC Sports. Arnold’s Army Battles Prostate Cancer grew from those beginnings to a highly successful charity.
We are deeply saddened by the death of Arnold Palmer, golf's greatest ambassador, at age 87. pic.twitter.com/iQmGtseNN1
— USGA (@USGA) September 26, 2016
Arnold Palmer’s father, Deacon Palmer, was perhaps the single largest influence on the man Arnold would become. Deacon worked at the Latrobe Country Club for 55 years. Arnold spent much of his childhood near the sixth tee of the club and learned the ropes from his father. Beyond the mechanics of grip and swing, he learned sportsmanship, manners, and respect. More than a balanced golfer, he was a well-rounded man, much to the credit of his father.
Of all those grieving the loss of “The King,” as Palmer was known, one of those closest to him was arguably Jack Nicklaus. The”Golden Bear,” as Nicklaus was called, spent as much time on the course with Palmer as anyone. Their friendship and rivalry ran for decades, capturing the attention of their many fans. Nicklaus posted a tribute to Arnold Palmer on Twitter on Sunday.
“Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself.”
I just got the news at about 8:45 that Arnold had passed. I was shocked to hear that we lost a great friend (continued) pic.twitter.com/skehUsQgww
— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) September 26, 2016
Arnold Palmer’s down-to-earth personality, desire to serve others and his sense of humor will live on.
“I have a tip that will take five strokes off anyone’s golf game. It’s called an eraser.”
[Featured Image by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]