Golf le­gend Palmer dies at 87

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

Arnold Palmer brought a coun­try-club sport to the masses with a hard-charg­ing style, charisma and a com­moner’s touch, At ease with both pres­i­dents and the golf­ing pub­lic, and on a first-name ba­sis with both, “The King,” died Sun­day in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

Alas­tair John­son, CEO of Arnold Palmer En­ter­prises, con­firmed that Palmer died Sun­day af­ter­noon of com­pli­ca­tions from heart prob­lems. John­son said Palmer was ad­mit­ted to the hos­pi­tal Thurs­day for some car­dio­vas­cu­lar work and weak­ened over the last few days.

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, dev-

il­ish grin and go-for-broke man­ner 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.

“Thanks Arnold for your friend­ship, coun­sel and a lot of laughs,” Woods tweeted Sun­day night. “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.”

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, then twist that mus­cu­lar neck and squint to see where it went.

“When he hits the ball, the earth shakes,” Gene Lit­tler once said.

Palmer ral­lied from seven shots be­hind to win a U.S. Open. He blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine to lose a U.S. Open. He was never dull. “I’m pleased that I was able to do what I did from a golf­ing stand­point,” Palmer said in 2008, two years af­ter he played in his last of­fi­cial tour­na­ment. “I would like to think that I left them more than just that.”

He left be­hind a gallery known as “Arnie’s Army,” which be­gan at Au­gusta Na­tional with a small group of sol­diers from nearby Fort Hood, 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 U.S. 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 like be­ing re­ferred to as “The King,” but the name stuck.

“It was back in the early ‘60s. I was play­ing pretty good, win­ning a lot of tour­na­ments, and some­one gave a speech and re­ferred to me as ‘The King,”’ Palmer said in a Novem­ber 2011 in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press.

“I don’t bask in it. I don’t rel­ish it. I tried for a long time to stop that and,” he said, paus­ing to shrug, “there was no point.”

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.

“Think about it,” Har­ring­ton said. “You don’t go up there and order a ‘Tiger Woods’ at the bar. You can go up there and order an ‘Arnold Palmer’ in this coun­try and the bar­man — he was a young man — knew what the drink was. That’s in a league of your own.”

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.

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 U.S. Open in 1960, per­haps the most mem­o­rable of his seven ma­jors.

Noth­ing de­fined Palmer like that 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. He was seven shots be­hind go­ing into the fi­nal round when he ran into Bob Drum, a Pittsburgh sports writer. Palmer asked if he could still win by shoot­ing 65, which would give him a four-day to­tal of 280. Drum told him that 280 “won’t do you a damn bit of good.”

In­censed, Palmer headed to the first tee and drove the green on the par-4 open­ing hole to make birdie. He birdied the next three holes, shot 65 and out­lasted Ben Ho­gan and 20-year-old am­a­teur Jack Nick­laus.

Palmer went head-tohead with Nick­laus two years later in a U.S. Open, the start of one of golf’s most fa­mous ri­val­ries. It was one-sided. 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.

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.”

Only four other play­ers won more PGA Tour events than Palmer — Sam Snead, Nick­laus and Woods.

Palmer’s first wife, Win­ning, died in 1999. They had two daugh­ters, and grand­son Sam Saunders plays on the PGA Tour. Palmer mar­ried Kathleen (Kit) Gawthrop in 2005.

Palmer was di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer in 1997, which was caught early. He re­turned to golf a few months later, wink­ing at fans as he waded through the gallery, al­ways a smile and a sig­na­ture for them.

“I’m not in­ter­ested in be­ing a hero,” Palmer said, im­ply­ing that too much was made about his re­turn from can­cer. “I just want to play some golf.”

That, per­haps, is his true epi­taph. Palmer lived to play.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Golf icon Arnold Palmer died Sun­day. He was 87.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

In this April 12, 1964 file photo, Arnold Palmer, right, slips into his green jacket with help from Jack Nick­laus af­ter win­ning the Masters golf cham­pi­onship, in Au­gusta, Ga.

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