The Great, and I mean the Truly Great, Arnold Palmer died last night at the age of 87. The winner of over sixty tournaments on the PGA tour, including seven major championships and four Masters Championships, Arnold Palmer cannot be summarized in mere numbers and statistics. Palmer exploded onto the professional golf scene at about the same time another force, television, did and the convergence of those two forces was a Perfect Storm that took golf out of the stuffy milieu of the country clubs and took the game to the masses. Arnie moved the needle of television ratings like no one before or since, and television's money brought the game to previously unimagined heights.
I have read many quotes over the years from one pro golfer or another that pretty much said the same thing: that every golfer on tour owes a large portion of their earnings to Arnold Palmer, because it was Palmer who made all of them rich. If you read enough golf history books you will know that Palmer was revered, almost universally so, by every golfer with whom he came in contact and competed against. No one will ever make the case that Palmer was the Greatest Golfer of all time, although he was pretty great, but a case can easily be made, for the reasons I stated above, that Palmer was easily the Most Important Golfer of All Time.
Like literally millions of other people, both Marilyn and I had personal encounters with Palmer. Mine came at a charity golf outing at Latrobe Country Club sometime in the late nineties. Late in the day, as my foursome approached the tenth hole, which was our eighteenth hole of the day, there stood on the tee taking practice swings the Man Himself. He was playing that day with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and a gaggle of secret service agents surrounded them, but Palmer insisted that we the tee it up and finish our round ahead of them. I was happy to shake his hand on that tee, and I have to say, hitting that particular tee shot was one of the most difficult swings I've ever had to make on a golf course!
Marilyn's came in the early nineties when her company, MAC, was one of the sponsors of the Bell Atlantic Seniors Tournament in Philadelphia. At the draw of players for the Pro-Am event, MAC drew Arnold Palmer! Marilyn got to meet him then, and in recounting the story this morning, she remarked what a great gentleman he was with all of them and their customers. While other players acted like they could hardly be bothered playing in a pro-am, Palmer was as enthusiastic as you could possibly be, and that the four guys who played with him that day had the absolute thrill of their lifetimes.
I once read that the distinctive Arnold Palmer autograph reproduced above is virtually worthless on the sports memorabilia market. Why? Because Palmer signed all the time, for everybody. In his later years, a large part of his day was spent signing balls, gloves, pictures, flags, anything that anyone sent him, he signed. Says a lot about the man.
Palmer became a public figure, I suppose, when he won the US Amateur in 1954, turned pro a year later and never looked back. It was public lifetime that lasted over sixty years and was lived without a whiff of scandal or bad behavior. What a legacy.
On Facebook today, the man most closely associated with Palmer as a competitor, business rival, and, most importantly, good friend, Jack Nicklaus released a statement that read in part:
Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself. Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans—Barbara and I among them. We were great competitors, who loved competing against each other, but we were always great friends along the way. Arnold always had my back, and I had his. We were always there for each other. That never changed.
He was the king of our sport and always will be.
What more is there that can be said?
RIP Arnold Palmer.