On the fourth and final day of the 2016 PGA tour, the world of golf went into mourning. On Sunday, as Rory McIlroy, Ryan Moore, Kevin Chappell and others vied for millions in prize money, links legend Arnold Palmer took his last breath at age 87 at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Within hours of the announcement that Palmer had passed, the internet was abuzz with tributes and memories of the man who lent a commoner’s touch to the country club sport of golf. If you want to read an obituary or postmortem tribute to “The King,” you’ll have plenty of chances to do that. The focus of this timely article is to teach the world a bit about who Arnold Palmer was and how his tenure as America’s greatest golfer changed the sport of gentlemen forever.
Early life of Arnold Palmer
Arnold Daniel Palmer was born to Milfred Jerome “Deacon” Palmer and his wife, Doris Morrison Palmer, on September 10, 1929 in the west-central Pennsylvania town of Latrobe. “Deac” Palmer, who’d survived a childhood bout with polio, was a greenskeeper and eventually a golf pro at the local country club. Palmer’s fortuitous paternity allowed him early access to the humble nine-hole course where he learned the game that would make him a sports star.
Palmer’s dad gifted him with his first set of clubs when he was only 3-years-old. By the time he was 8, young Arnold’s talent at the centuries-old Scottish game was evident. By age 11, Arnold Palmer was caddying for the best players in Pennsylvania. Arnold joined the Latrobe High School golf team where he met his best friend, Bud Worsham, during their senior year. Palmer won three golf championships and three prestigious titles before graduating from high school with a golf scholarship to Wake Forest College in 1947.
During their senior year at Wake Forest, Worsham was killed in an automobile accident. The mishap disturbed Palmer so much that he left school and enlisted in the Coast Guard. After leaving the service in 1954, Palmer settled in Cleveland where he sold paint and paint supplies to support himself and his golf habit. That same year, Palmer prevailed in the National Amateur tournament, prompting the 25-year-old duffer to go pro. A sponsorship contract with the Wilson Sporting Goods Company provided Palmer enough income to propose marriage to Winnie Walzer three days after meeting her while the pair were playing in an amateur golf tournament.
Big wins and prestigious prizes
Arnold Palmer pocketed his first substantial golf-related paycheck in 1955, when he won $2,400 at the Canadian Open. In 1956, Palmer won three more tournaments and four more the year after that, according to YourDictionary. The $28,000 Palmer pocketed in 1957 made him one of the best-paid moneymakers on tour. The following year, Arnold won his first Masters Tournament in Augusta, forever securing his place in the annals of golf history.
Over the course of his long career, Arnold Palmer won dozens of tournaments and titles, including 29 PGA Tour events as well as securing victory at The Masters in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964. He was awarded the Vardon trophy for lowest scores four times and in 1967, Palmer became the first golf pro to earn $1 million playing golf. In 1971, Palmer purchased the Latrobe Country Club where he learned to play as a child.
Arnold Palmer changed the face of golf
Prior to the 1960s, golf was a game reserved for the most moneyed members of society. Once the plain-spoken Palmer joined the ranks of touring golf pros, public perception of the elite game loosened considerably. During his heyday, Palmer was dubbed part of the “Big Three” which also included Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
In 1969, it looked as if Palmer’s illustrious career would end when the sandy haired duffer suffered a severe hip injury. In typical Arnold Palmer fashion, the seasoned sportsman rallied, winning the Bob Hope Desert Classic and three other high-profile tournaments in 1971.
Arnold Palmer played his 50th and final Masters tournament in 2004. That same year, Palmer became the first professional golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2005, Palmer announced his retirement after being disqualified from participating in the U.S. Open. After 2005, Palmer did not play golf as a pro, but he continued to earn a nice living from endorsements, his ownership of the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, and his part ownership of The Golf Channel.
The world remembers Arnold Palmer
United States Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III told PGA of America the following about his old friend.
“When I think of Arnold Palmer, I think of his natural ability to relate to people, the close bond he had with his father, and how when I first came on Tour, he made young professionals like me feel welcome. Like me, Mr. Palmer was born the son of a PGA Professional and was taught by his dad not only the fundamentals, but also how to give back to this great game. He leaves an impact on the game and on sports in America that is unmatched. Tonight our country lost a great sportsman, a great American. As we approach the Ryder Cup this week, our team will keep Mr. Palmer and his family in our prayers and will draw from his strength and determination to inspire us.”
Golf Digest magazine offered the following remembrance of Palmer.
“He looked like an athlete, a prizefighter, a middleweight. He opened golf’s windows and let in some air. He lifted a country-club game, balanced it on his shoulders, carried it to the people and made it a sport. He won big. He lost big. People who didn’t follow golf followed him. People who hated golf loved him. He was photogenic in the old newspapers. He was telegenic in the new medium. He was the most asked question called into the night desks on weekends: ‘What did Palmer do today?'”
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
Johnathon Voye was among the Arnold Palmer fans known as “Arnie’s Army.” After years of admiring the man from the gallery, Voye had a chance to speak with Palmer at the Quicksilver Classic in 1990. Upon hearing of his death this week, Voye reminisced.
“It’s not often we meet our heroes. And it’s not often that they are more wonderful than you could ever have imagined. He was, and he made me feel special. Thank you Mr Palmer. Long Live the King. I’ll never forget you.”
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) September 26, 2016
RIP Arnold Palmer, September 10, 1929 – September 25, 2016
[Featured Image by Iowa Daughter | Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | CC by-SA 3.0]