America has many heroes in the form of celebrities and personalities but what makes Arnold Palmer unique among giants is that it was Arnie, Arnie's Army, the sport of golf, and television broadcasting that exploded together and defined for all time the characteristics of a true American hero.
When Arnold Palmer first came to the attention of a war weary nation in the 1950's, at the same time television was just beginning to realize the importance of sports in the broadcast world, and the image was changing from black and white to color, golf was an obscure and elitist sport for the rich.
Palmer was the son of a greenskeeper and professional from
a member of the working class who maintained the course for the rich and
powerful. From 1954 on Arnold Palmer was
the face of golf in Pennsylvania
and the world in one of the greatest meteoritic climbs to fame and fortune in
our history. America
One day in 1954 an unknown Arnold Palmer won the US Amateur Golf tournament and just four years later, in 1958, he won the Masters, the most prestigious tournament in the world of professional golf. Besides popularizing golf for the masses, he became the first professional athlete to become a commercial icon through endorsements.
Palmer was the first sports client signed by legendary Mark McCormack, founder of powerful IMG, the International Management Group. McCormack summed up Palmer's astonishing appeal in the following words.
McCormack listed five attributes that made Palmer especially marketable: his good looks; his relatively modest background (his father was a greenskeeper before rising to be club professional and Latrobe was a humble club); the way he played golf, taking risks and wearing his emotions on his sleeve; his involvement in a string of exciting finishes in early televised tournaments; and his affability.
Arnie the Icon (double click for full screen)
The following is a wonderful tribute to Arnie by Adam Schupak of Golfweek magazine.
Golf Week Magazine
Golf’s most beloved figure, Arnold Palmer, dies at 87
By Adam Schupak
Sep 25, 2016
Palmer, a native of
Reaction poured in from “Arnie’s Army” of admirers in the world of golf.
“We loved him with a mythic American joy,” said Palmer biographer James Dodson. “He represented everything that is great about golf. The friendship, the fellowship, the laughter, the impossibility of golf, the sudden rapture moment that brings you back, a moment that you never forget, that’s Arnold Palmer in spades. He’s the defining figure in golf.”
No one did more to popularize the sport than Palmer. His dashing presence singlehandedly took golf out of the country clubs and into the mainstream. Quite simply, he made golf cool.
“I used to hear cheers go up from the crowd around Palmer,” Lee Trevino said. “And I never knew whether he’d made a birdie or just hitched up his pants.”
Golfweek subscriber Bob Conn of
“If Arnold Palmer sent me a personal letter asking me to join the cleanup crew at Bay Hill, I would buy a green jumpsuit, stick a nail in a broom handle, grab some Hefty garbage bags and shake his hand when I arrived.”
It wasn’t just the fans. His fellow competitors revered him, and the next generation and the generation after that worshipped him. When reporters at the 1954 U.S. Amateur asked Gene Littler to identify the golfer as slender as wire and as strong as cable cracking balls on the practice tee, Littler said: “That’s Arnold Palmer. He’s going to be a great player some day. When he hits the ball, the earth shakes.”
“That victory was the turning point in my life,” he said. “It gave me confidence I could compete at the highest level of the game.”
Palmer’s victory set in motion a chain of events. Instead of returning to selling paint, Palmer played the next week in the Waite Memorial in
In his heyday, Palmer famously swung as if he were coming out of his shoes.
“What other people find in poetry, I find in the flight of a good drive,” Palmer said.
He unleashed his corkscrew-swing motion, which produced a piercing draw, with the ferocity of a summer squall. In his inimitable swashbuckling style, Palmer succeeded with both power and putter. In a career that spanned more than six decades, he won 62 PGA Tour titles from 1955 to 1973, placing him fifth on the Tour’s all-time victory list. He collected seven major titles in a six-plus-year explosion, from the 1958 Masters to the 1964 Masters.
Palmer didn’t lay up or leave putts short. His go-for-broke style meant he played out of the woods and ditches with equal abandon, and resulted in a string of memorable charges. At the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills near
“Palmer on a golf course was Jack Dempsey with his man on the ropes, Henry Aaron with a three-and-two fastball, Rod Laver at set point, Joe Montana with a minute to play, A.J. Foyt with a lap to go and a car to catch,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray.
Even Palmer’s setbacks were epic. He double-bogeyed the 18th hole at
Arnold Daniel Palmer, born Sept. 10, 1929, grew up in the working-class mill town of
Though for decades Palmer made his winter home in
“Of all the places I’ve been, there isn’t any place that I’m more comfortable than I am right here,” he told Golfweek in 2009 in Latrobe ahead of his 80th birthday.
Palmer was 3 years old when his father wrapped his hands around a cut-down women’s golf club in the classic overlapping Vardon grip, and instructed him to, “Hit it hard, boy. Go find it and hit it hard again.”
Palmer’s combination of matinee-idol looks, charisma and blue-collar background made him a superstar just as golf ushered in the television era. He became Madison Avenue’s favorite pitchman, accepting an array of endorsement deals that generated millions of dollars in income on everything from licensed sportswear to tractors to motor oil and even Japanese tearooms. Credit goes to agent Mark McCormack, who sold the Palmer personality and the values he represented rather than his status as a tournament winner.
Palmer’s business empire grew to include a course-design company, a chain of dry cleaners, car dealerships, as well as ownership of Bay Hill Club & Lodge in
Palmer led the PGA Tour money list four times, and was the first player to win more than $100,000 in a season. He played on six Ryder Cup teams, and was the winning captain twice. He is credited with conceiving the modern Grand Slam of the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship during a conversation with golf writer Bob Drum on a flight to
It was Palmer who convinced his colleagues that they could never consider themselves champions unless they had won the Claret Jug. Nick Faldo, during Palmer’s farewell at
In 1974, Palmer was one of the original inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame. As he grew older, Palmer was let down by a shaky putter, but his popularity never waned. The nascent Senior PGA Tour hitched its star to golf’s first telegenic personality when Palmer turned 50. He relished winning again and became a regular on the senior circuit, remaining active until 2006.
On Sept. 12, 2012, Palmer was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. He became just the sixth athlete to receive the honor. Coupled with the Presidential Medal of Freedom that he was awarded in 2004, Palmer held both of the highest honors that the
Palmer, who gave up his pilot’s license in 2011, had been in deteriorating health since late 2015.
A ceremonial tee shot at the 2015 British Open was his last public golf shot. Palmer looked increasingly frail in public appearances at the API in March and as an onlooker instead of an active participant during the opening tee shot at the 2016 Masters in April.
“Winnie once said to me, ‘When Arnold Palmer gives up flying his airplane and his ability to hit a golf ball, he won’t be with us long,’ ” said Dodson, the biographer.
Palmer is survived by his second wife, Kit, daughters Amy Saunders and Peggy Wears, six grandchildren, including Sam Saunders, who plays on the PGA Tour, and nine great-grandchildren.
As a measure of his popularity, Palmer, like Elvis Presley before him, was known simply as “The King.” But in a life bursting from the seams with success, Palmer never lost his common touch. He was a man of the people, willing to sign every autograph, shake every hand, and tried to look every person in his gallery in the eye.