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.