Arnold Palmer (1929 - 2016)
By: Linnea Crowther
2 years ago
Arnold Palmer, one of the American legends of professional golf, died Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, in Pittsburgh, according to multiple news sources. He was 87.
Palmer won 62 titles on the PGA Tour between 1955 and 1973. Part of the “Big Three” alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, he helped popularize and commercialize professional golf as a televised sport.
Born Sept. 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Palmer learned the game from his father, Milfred "Deacon" Palmer, who was head professional and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club. He attended Wake Forest on a golf scholarship, but he served in the U.S. Coast Guard for three years before beginning to play full time. His win in the 1954 U.S. Amateur paved the way for his entry into professional golf.
Palmer’s first tour win was the 1955 Canadian Open during his rookie season. By 1960, he had won the Masters Tournament – twice – and was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s Sportsman of the Year. His fans, known as Arnie’s Army, showed up in droves to watch their hero and his aggressive, emotional style of golf.
Palmer played golf like it was a full-contact sport, attacking the course like an opponent and swinging full-bore at the ball. Over the years, sports writers called his style bold, hard-charging, go-for-broke; they said it was full of panache and charisma. It was an unforgettable style that attracted fans who might not have bothered with the sport had they never seen Palmer drive his way to another dominating win.
Palmer's rise to superstardom wasn't hurt by his friendly good looks and folksy charm. In a sport often seen as elitist, Palmer was one of the first to bring a common man's touch to the green, attracting fans who loved dreaming that they, too, might rise to Palmer's heights. He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth – he learned at the knee of his dad, but not in an exclusive venue. Latrobe was a modest club, and Deacon Palmer was a self-made man who worked his way up from a groundskeeping job to the status of head pro. It was skill and drive that got Palmer to the top, not money and connections, and his fans loved it.
Between his bold style, his handsome face, and his charismatic personality, Palmer was made to be a television star, and that combination of attributes – unusual in the midcentury golf world – helped to make golf a viable TV sport. In the mid-1950s, few golf events made it to television. By the 1960s, golf was becoming a television favorite, and the Masters was the top event in televised golf.
The Masters, of course, was Palmer's signature tournament, indelibly associated with him. Palmer played in an incredible 50 consecutive Masters tournaments, from 1955 to 2004. He won four of them – in 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1964. In 2007, he began serving as the honorary starter for the first round of the Masters, hitting the tournament's first shot each year. "It's a great thrill," he told the Augusta Chronicle as he teed off at the 2009 Masters.
Though Palmer was the king of the Masters, it was far from the only championship he took home. He won the British Open twice, in 1961 and 1962, and the U.S. Open once, in 1960. A host of other minor championships dotted his record, from the 1956 Eastern Open to the 1962 Palm Springs Golf Classic to the 1981 U.S. Senior Open, with dozens in between.
Palmer was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. The PGA Tour honored him with their lifetime achievement award in 1998 and their Payne Stewart Award in 2000, the first year it was offered. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 – the first golfer to receive that honor – and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009. Nicknamed the King, he was befriended by presidents from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush.
Among Palmer's less serious honors is the drink that bears his name. The Arnold Palmer is a mixture of iced tea and lemonade, and it's named after the golfing legend simply because he loved to drink it. He carried a thermos of the beverage while he played, and he ordered it in restaurants. Eventually, it became so associated with him that the catchy name stuck.
Palmer was also a pioneer of sports marketing, making millions of dollars in endorsements long after he retired from professional golf. He endorsed United Airlines, Pennzoil, Cadillac, and Rolex. As recently as 2016, he could be seen in a commercial for the blood-thinning prescription drug Xarelto.
In addition to golf, Palmer was an avid pilot. He flew for over 50 years; in 1999, the airport in his hometown was named Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in his honor.
Palmer was twice married, first to Winifred Walzer in 1954. They remained together for decades until her death in 1999. He remarried in 2005, to Kathleen Gawthrop, who survives him. He is also survived by his two daughters from his first marriage, Amy and Peggy.
In the wake of his death, Palmer was widely mourned and memorialized by fellow pro golfers as well as fans. A sampling of the social media posts that remembered Palmer's great golf game and winning personality:
Tiger Woods: “Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend. It’s hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King.”
Rory McIlroy: “Arnie put the game on the map. Don’t think any other sportsperson in any sport did for their profession what Arnie did for the game.”
Ricky Barnes: “Wow just got the chills. Nicest man in golf I have been around. And will never forget that practice round together at Augusta. Miss u King!!”
David Duval: “Not a single modern golf fan would be a fan without him. The King made golf cool.”
We invite you to share condolences for Arnold Palmer in our Guest Book.