Golf icon Arnold Palmer has passed away at the age of 87. He died Sunday night in a Pittsburgh hospital while awaiting cardiac surgery.
Known as ‘The King’, Palmer leaves behind an incomparable legacy. Between 1958 and 1964, he won four Masters titles, two British Opens and one US Open. In all, he won 95 professional titles. But he wasn’t just a great player. He was monumental in revolutionising the sport of golf, helping widen its appeal in a similar way Michael Jordan did with basketball.
His peak years coincided with the booming era of television and, combined with his distinctive style and charismatic personality, became the first person to make $1 million dollars playing golf.
Palmer himself said, “I would like to be remembered for bringing golf to a worldwide audience” – and he did just that. To be fair, he was helped by two great rivals in Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, who together, formed the ‘Big Three’ in what was the first golden era for golf. And it became a tradition for a number of years for the retired trio to hit honorary tee shots to get the Masters underway on a Thursday morning.
Golf grew rapidly because television allowed these golfers into American lounge rooms, and the personality and charm of Palmer was irresistible. In the process, prize-money and sponsorship shot to unprecedented levels.
Only hours before Palmer died, Rory McIlroy cashed in with an $11.53 million payday in claiming the FedEx Cup jackpot. That gives you an idea of the multimillion dollar industry that golf is today compared to the amateur past-time it was before Palmer’s era.
The tributes came flooding in from everyone from Tiger Woods to President Barack Obama to current world No.1 Jason Day.
Obama, Biden honor Arnold Palmer: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden mourned the death of Arnold… https://t.co/IWXqHXfiBM
— Janet Ford (@JanetFord4348) September 26, 2016
Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) September 26, 2016
So sad to hear Mr. Palmer has passed away. He touched us all and was an incredible role model. The KING.
— Jason Day (@JDayGolf) September 26, 2016
PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement: “There would be no PGA Tour champions without Arnold Palmer. There would be no Golf Channel without Arnold Palmer. No one has had a greater impact on those who play our great sport or who are touched by it.”
From his home town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania he started playing golf from the age of four using clubs made of tree wood. Coming from a working-class background allowed the common man to warm to him even more.
His biographer, James Dodson, described ‘The King’ as “the most charismatic, down to earth person I’ve ever been around. There’s no public and private difference between Arnold Palmer. He was generous and kind and funny and loved to needle you”.
Palmer even had a drink named after him – a mix of iced tea and lemonade. GQ Magazine named him in the ‘50 most stylish men of the last 50 years’. He embraced his fame and made the most of it but not in a narcissistic way.
Palmer received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from George Bush in 2004 and had a tournament named after him in 2007 – the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Palmer summed up the sport he loved, perhaps more eloquently than anyone else could: “deceptively simple and endlessly complicated”.
— CNN (@CNN) September 26, 2016