Palmer’s impact on sport was immense
Mark he left went well beyond his playing career, extending everywhere from television to endorsements
CHASKA, MINN. >> Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth all chased the Grand Slam, golf’s holy grail of winning all four majors in one year.
Arnold Palmer is the one who created it.
When he turned 50, it was Palmer who brought enthusiasm and credibility in 1980 to a fledgling circuit known then as the Senior PGA Tour. And it flourished because no one got tired of watching Arnie. Today, nine players who probably should be retired already have made at least $1 million.
The Golf Channel interrupted coverage of the PGA Tour Champions event Sunday night when Palmer died at age 87, and the network provided continuous reports on his legacy, highlights of his greatest victories and images of the countless relationships Palmer developed. One of those legacies was the Golf Channel itself, which he co-founded in 1995.
“It is not an exaggeration to say there would be no modern day PGA Tour without Arnold Palmer. There would be no PGA Tour Champions without Arnold Palmer. There would be no Golf Channel without Arnold Palmer,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. Some of Palmer’s greatest influences on the game:
It was rare for Americans to play in the British Open in the decade after World War II, mainly because the prize money wasn’t enough to cover travel expenses. Palmer helped return golf’s oldest championship to its glory in 1960, and he gave the sport a new standard to chase.
He won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960 when he traveled over to St. Andrews for the British Open. On the journey across, he raised the notion of the modern Grand Slam — the four professional majors — to sports writer Bob Drum. Palmer was runner-up to Kel Nagle that year. He won the British Open at Royal Birkdale in
1961, and he defended his title the following year at Royal Troon.
Americans followed his lead soon thereafter.
“His contribution to The Open Championship was, and remains, immeasurable,” R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said.
Palmer came along about the time television began to take an interest in golf, and he quickly became a star. Two years after CBS Sports first televised the Masters, Palmer won the first of his four green jackets. The marriage of Palmer and TV sent golf to an unprecedented level of popularity.
Frank Chirkinian, the late golf producer for CBS Sports, once said Palmer “had more charisma than any 10 guys I ever met. Maybe more than any 100. You just had to know to keep the camera on him.”
One of the more pivotal
moments in the history of modern golf — all sports, for that matter — was the handshake agreement between Palmer and IMG founder Mark McCormack to represent him in contract negotiations.
Palmer was more than a golfer. Companies couldn’t get enough of him, and he capitalized on the opportunity. His earnings went from $6,000 a year to more than $500,000 in the first two years of his agreement. He had deals with Pennzoil and Rolex, Cadillac and United Airlines, Callaway and Heinz Ketchup.
In 2011, nearly 40 years after his last PGA Tour victory, Palmer was No. 3 on Golf Digest’s list of top earnings at $36 million a year. He trailed only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Palmer and Joe Gibbs founded a new network in 1995 called the Golf Channel, which immediately was panned as a waste of air time. Tennis magazine described it as “24 hours of chubby guys in bad clothes speaking in jargon that only they understand.”
In the early days, even
Palmer had his doubts, and the question arose whether investors should cut their losses. They asked Palmer what he thought, and his answer is now on a wall at Golf Channel headquarters in Orlando, Florida.
“I said, ‘Let me say this to you: If I didn’t try to hit it through the trees a few times, none of us would be here,”’ Palmer said in 2015.
Now, every golf fan knows about the European team at the Ryder Cup because Golf Channel televises the European Tour, along with the LPGA Tour, the PGA Tour Champions and the weekday rounds of all PGA Tour events.
Palmer piloted his first aircraft in 1956, and 10 years later, he had a license to fly jets that now are the standard mode of transportation for top players, even though most are merely passengers.
He set a record in 1976 when he circumnavigated the globe in 57 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds in a Lear 36. He stopped flying his Cessna Citation 10 when he was encouraged not to renew his license at age 81.
Arnold Palmer follows the flight of his shot at the Glenn Campbell Los Angeles Open in 1976.
Palmer competes during the U.S. Open at Olympic Country Club in San Francisco in 1966.