Iconic Palmer had a personal touch to game
(82), while five players, but not Palmer, have captured golf’s modern career Grand Slam. (Palmer won four Masters titles, two British Opens and one U.S. Open, but he failed to win the PGA Championship.)
Yet it was Palmer who earned, and never relinquished, the sobriquet “King.” His impact on golf was unequivocal and transcendent. Armed with big biceps and a flat stomach, Palmer brought raw athleticism to a discipline many considered more skill than sport.
He revolutionized sports marketing as it is known today, and his success contributed to increased incomes for athletes across the sporting spectrum.
Palmer’s first professional major victory, at the 1958 Masters, serendipitously intersected with the phenomena of television. His chiseled looks and bold style of play made him a compelling lead actor in golf’s weekly playhouse theater.
Palmer’s historic victories were matched only by his historic collapses. The same man who rallied from seven shots behind on the final day to win the1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Colorado also blew a final-day seven-shot lead to lose the 1966 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
Palmer’s homemade, corkscrew swing — once likened to someone wrestling a snake — appealed to weekend hackers who also lacked textbook form.
“I was often where they were as I came down the stretch, in the rough, the trees, or up the creek,” Palmer wrote in his 1999 biography, “A Golfer’s Life.”
His putting could be sizzling hot or disastrously frigid. Palmer, sometimes to his detriment, never changed his approach.
But it was Palmer’s appeal to nongolfers, and women especially, that made him a crossover star. Television brought Palmer into Middle America’s living room, where he became a multimillionaire who never lost a connection to the common Joe.
Arnold Daniel Palmer was born in Youngstown, Pa., on Sept. 10, 1929 — just days before the stock market crashed. He was the oldest of four children by Deacon and Doris Palmer. The Palmers lived in nearby Latrobe, where Deacon provided golf lessons and served as greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club.
At Latrobe High, he won consecutive Pennsylvania schoolboy championships before following his friend Buddy Worsham to play golf at Wake Forest University.
The turning point of his career came with his victory at the 1954 United States Amateur Championship at the Country Club of Detroit — Palmer always considered Arnold Palmer revolutionized sports marketing as it is known today, and his success helped drive incomes for other athletes. it his “eighth” major.
Palmer won his first tournament, the Canadian Open, in 1955 and garnered $7,958 that year in prize money.
Palmer’s second PGA Tour victory — and his first in the United States — came in the 1956 Eastern Open at Baltimore’s Mount Pleasant Golf Course.
Two local 16-year-old golfers, Hank Majewski and John Pruitt, decided to skip the Baltimore City junior tournament. Majewski entered the tournament as an amateur, while Pruitt caddied.
“In those days, you used to draw [a player], and I asked John, ‘Who’d you get?’ ” Majewski recalled Sunday night. “He said: ‘I should have played in this tournament instead of caddying. I got some guy name Arnold Palmer.’ ”
After hitting his opening tee shot out of bounds, Palmer thought about packing up his clubs and withdrawing on the spot.
“I was a little bit of temper guy in those days and I shoved my club back in the bag and said to my playing partners: ‘I’m out of here,’ ” Palmer recalled during the 1998 State Farm Senior Classic at Hobbit’s Glen Golf Club in Columbia.
One of them, Doug Ford, told Palmer to stick it out. “He said: ’Oh, you can spot the field two shots,’ ” said Palmer, who would win by two shots.
In 1993, Majewski was working as a rules official at the 1993 PGA Championship at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, and had a locker near Palmer’s in the clubhouse.
“I reminded him of that story, and I can tell you that he remembered every detail,” Majewski said Sunday.