By James Cranney
Son of a greenskeeper, a common man who became king, truly one of the most influential people in the world, he was the King. Late last Sunday night in his home state of Pennsylvania, Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. One of the most iconic golfers the game has ever known, he won seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour events. Through his outstanding play and fellowship with his fans, Palmer transformed golf and the world around him.
Maintaining the course alongside his father at Latrobe Country Club was how a young Arnold made extra cash growing up. Latrobe was also where Palmer found his love for the game. His father taught him how to play golf which developed his passion at the age of only four. After serving in the Coast Guard for three years, Palmer attended Wake Forest College where he competed on the golf team. He competed in the 1954 US Amateur and after winning the tournament decided to make a career on the pro tour.
It did not take much longer for Arnie to have success as he slipped on the green jacket after the 1958 Masters. Palmer’s best years came between 1960-1963 winning 29 PGA Tour events and five majors. His successful performance on the course matched with his Hollywood looks created quite the following amongst the galleries. His fan base became so immense they were referred to as “Arnie’s Army.” Palmer continued to dominate closing out his last two majors by 6 strokes. At the 1962 British Open he finished off the field with a Sunday 69 and 1964 Masters going wire-to-wire with 69-68-69-70. The end of Palmer’s unbelievable six year reign was in no way the final chapter to his story.
Arnold Palmer also revolutionized sports marketing as he created his brand on the course and off it. Of all the Palmer endorsements, none come close to the success of his half lemonade half iced tea drink appropriately called “Arnold Palmer.” In 1967, he also became the first golfer to earn one million dollars on the tour. Arnold’s popularity and performance attracted wider audiences as golf had only been introduced to television the decade before. Palmer was the clear catalyst for the increased interest in the game of golf.
After finishing a hall of fame career, Palmer became heavily involved in philanthropy, opening a children’s hospital in Orlando and making multiple investments in youth development. In 2004, he became the first golfer to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Eight years later, Arnie was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. After he accepted the highest honor awarded to a United States citizen, Palmer went outside the White House and signed hundreds of autographs until every fan got an opportunity to interact with the King.
That was who Arnold Palmer was. He had the natural gift to make people around him just feel good. Palmer took time for others and never shied away from an autograph or handshake. He also never shied away from a shot on the golf course always playing aggressive with no fear. Palmer’s biggest rival Jack Nicklaus always respected his relentlessness on the course. Just hours after Palmer’s death was announced Nicklaus commented, “He [Palmer] has always been a fighter and he never gave up on anything. He didn’t give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold’s will and spirit did not.”