Arnold Palmer dies at 87, made golf pop­u­lar for masses

Malta Independent - - SPORT - Doug Fer­gu­son AP Golf Writer

Arnold Palmer charged across the golf course and into Amer­ica’s liv­ing rooms with a go-for­broke style that made a coun­try club sport pop­u­lar for the ev­ery­man. At ease with pres­i­dents and the pub­lic, he was on a first-name ba­sis with both.

Through his re­mark­able life, he never lost that per­sonal touch. That’s what made him the King.

Palmer died on Sun­day in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

“Arnold tran­scended the game of golf,” Jack Nick­laus said. “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. Along the way, he had mil­lions of ador­ing fans.

“He was the king of our sport and al­ways will be.”

Alas­tair John­ston, the CEO of Arnold Palmer En­ter­prises, said Palmer was ad­mit­ted to the UPMC Hos­pi­tal on Thurs­day for some car­dio­vas­cu­lar work and weak­ened over the last few days.

The mem­o­ries of Palmer went beyond his golf and to the peo­ple who couldn’t take their eyes off him.

“He was an iconic Amer­i­can who treated peo­ple with re­spect and warmth, and built a unique legacy through his abil­ity to en­gage with fans,” John­ston said.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tweeted about Palmer’s death, say­ing: “Here’s to The King who was as ex­tra­or­di­nary on the links as he was gen­er­ous to oth­ers. Thanks for the mem­o­ries, Arnold.”

Palmer ranked among the most im­por­tant fig­ures in golf his­tory, and it went well beyond his seven ma­jor cham­pi­onships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His good looks, dev­il­ish grin and hard­charg­ing style of play made the elite sport ap­peal­ing to one and all. And it helped that he ar­rived about the same time as tele­vi­sion moved into most house­holds, a per­fect fit that sent golf to un­prece­dented pop­u­lar­ity.

“If it wasn’t for Arnold, golf wouldn’t be as pop­u­lar as it is now,” Tiger Woods said in 2004 when Palmer played in his last Mas­ters. “He’s the one who ba­si­cally brought it to the fore­front on TV. If it wasn’t for him and his ex­cite­ment, his flair, the way he played, golf prob­a­bly would not have had that type of ex­cite­ment. “And that’s why he’s the king.” Beyond his golf, Palmer was a pi­o­neer in sports mar­ket­ing, paving the way for scores of other ath­letes to reap in mil­lions from en­dorse­ments. Some four decades af­ter his last PGA Tour win, he ranked among the high­est-earn­ers in golf.

On the golf course, Palmer was an icon not for how of­ten he won, but the way he did it.

He would hitch up his pants, drop a cig­a­rette and at­tack the flags. With pow­er­ful hands wrapped around the golf club, Palmer would slash at the ball with all of his might, twist that mus­cu­lar neck and squint to see where it went.

He left be­hind a gallery known as “Arnie’s Army,” which be­gan at Au­gusta Na­tional with a small group of sol­diers from nearby Fort Gor­don, and grew to in­clude a le­gion of fans from ev­ery cor­ner of the globe.

Palmer stopped play­ing the Mas­ters in 2004 and hit the cer­e­mo­nial tee shot ev­ery year un­til 2016, when age be­gan to take a toll and he strug­gled with his bal­ance.

It was Palmer who gave golf the mod­ern ver­sion of the Grand Slam - win­ning all four pro­fes­sional ma­jors in one year. He came up with the idea af­ter win­ning the Mas­ters and US Open in 1960. Palmer was run­ner-up at the Bri­tish Open, later call­ing it one of the big­gest dis­ap­point­ments of his ca­reer. But his ap­pear­ance alone in­vig­o­rated the Bri­tish Open, which Amer­i­cans had been ig­nor­ing for years.

Palmer never won the PGA Cham­pi­onship, one ma­jor short of cap­tur­ing a ca­reer Grand Slam.

But then, stan­dard he set went beyond tro­phies. It was the way he treated peo­ple, look­ing ev­ery­one in the eye with a smile and a wink. He signed ev­ery au­to­graph, mak­ing sure it was leg­i­ble. He made ev­ery fan feel like an old friend.

Palmer never liked be­ing re­ferred to as “The King,” but the name stuck.

Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event ev­ery sea­son for 52 con­sec­u­tive years, end­ing with the 2004 Mas­ters. He spear­headed the growth of the 50-an­dolder Cham­pi­ons Tour, win­ning 10 times and draw­ing some of the big­gest crowds.

He was equally suc­cess­ful off with golf course de­sign, a wine col­lec­tion, and ap­parel that in­cluded his fa­mous logo of an um­brella. He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge upon mak­ing his win­ter home in Or­lando, Florida, and in 2007 the PGA Tour changed the name of the tour­na­ment to the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional.

The com­bi­na­tion of iced tea and le­mon­ade is known as an “Arnold Palmer.” Padraig Har­ring­ton re­calls eat­ing in an Ital­ian restau­rant in Mi­ami when he heard a cus­tomer or­der one.

Palmer was born Sept. 10, 1929, in La­trobe, Penn­syl­va­nia, the old­est of four chil­dren. His fa­ther, Dea­con, be­came the greenskeeper at La­trobe Coun­try Club in 1921 and the club pro in 1933.

He had two loves as a boy strap­ping on his hol­ster with toy guns to play “Cow­boys and In­di­ans,” and play­ing golf. It was on the golf course that Palmer grew to be­come so strong, with bar­rel arms and hands of iron.

Palmer joined the PGA Tour in 1955 and won the Cana­dian Open for the first of his 62 ti­tles. He went on to win four green jack­ets at Au­gusta Na­tional, along with the Bri­tish Open in 1961 and 1962 and the US Open in 1960, per­haps the most mem­o­rable of his seven ma­jors be­cause it de­fined his style. You could never count him out.

Palmer went head to head with Nick­laus two years later in a US Open, the start of one of golf’s most fa­mous ri­val­ries. It was onesided. Nick­laus went on to win 18 ma­jors and was re­garded as golf’s great­est cham­pion. Palmer won two more ma­jors af­ter that loss, and his last PGA Tour win came in 1973 at the Bob Hope Clas­sic.

Golf writer Tom Calla­han once de­scribed the dif­fer­ence be­tween Nick­laus and Palmer this way: It’s as though God said to Nick­laus, “You will have skills like no other,” then whis­pered to Palmer, “But they will love you more.”

“I think he brought a lot more to the game than his game,” Nick­laus said in 2009. “What I mean by that is, there’s no ques­tion about his record and his abil­ity to play the game. He was very, very good at that. But he ob­vi­ously brought a lot more. He brought the hitch of his pants, the flair that he brought to the game, the fans that he brought into the game.”

It made him a beloved fig­ure, and brought riches long af­ter he stopped com­pet­ing.

This Jan­uary 28, 1962, file photo shows Arnold Palmer con­cen­trat­ing on his next move dur­ing the Lucky In­ter­na­tional Open at San Fran­cisco’s Hard­ing Park

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