Simply put, Arnold Palmer is recognized as one of the true legends in the game, and although he has many nicknames and slogans associated with his name, my favorite is “the most trusted name in golf.”
Arnold Palmer won a total of 92 tournaments worldwide which included seven majors; four Masters wins, one British Open, and one US Open. He was known for many characteristics but is most remembered for his swashbuckling and hard-charging style of game while off the course; he will always be remembered as one of the true gentlemen of the game.
Arnold’s greatness and legacy go far beyond the golf course. Mr. Palmer had a magnetic personality and, off the course and was an astute businessman and golf course designer. He was known for being kind to everyone he met; whether you were a valet driver at the local club or the President of the United States, Arnie treated everyone the same. This characteristic of his personality endeared him to millions of golf fans globally.
To some people, Arnold will always be remembered as a golfing great, but to many others, he was so much more. Arnold was a legendary golfer, a skilled pilot, an astute businessman, a world-class course architect, a devoted husband, and father, and a sponsors dream. Arnold was the most down-to-earth, accessible, and kind golfer in the history of not only golf but sport in general. Arnies popularity continued to grow early on and never wained. He helped popularize golf and helped bring the games into thre homes of golf fans globally.
Various governing bodies around the world have recognized Arnold’s popularity and success in ways that many, including Arnie, could never have envisioned. One of his most cherished awards was being presented as the 1960s “athlete of the decade.” Arnold’s 92 tournaments wins came across five decades and included wins on the PGA Tour along with 30 international victories. Arnold’s first victory was the Canadian Open in 1955.
Arnold’s charismatic and kind personality helped garner massive amounts of support by golfing fans everywhere he played, but one group, in particular, changed the way golf was watched forever. In 1958 at the famed Masters Tournament, soldiers from a surrounding base came in droves to support Arnie, many with handmade signs; the group became known as “Arnie’s Army,” and the name has now become part of golfing folklore.
Arnold’s early years
Arnold was born September 10, 1929, in the small country town of Latrobe in Pennsylvania. Arnold’s father, Jerome, who suffered from polio as a youngster, introduced Arnold to the game of golf at age 9. Although Jerome suffered from polio, he recovered and became the greenkeeper and later on the Head Professional at the Latrobe Country Club. Arnold would walk with his father and help maintain the course, and this is where his true love for the game came, he’s quoted as saying.
Arnold attended Wake Forest University on a full golfing scholarship; however, Arnold left abruptly after the tragic death of his best friend, Buddy Worsham. From 1951 to 1954, Arnold served in the US Coast Guard and went through training at the renowned training center in New Jersey, Cape May. Remarkably Arnold and other enlisted coast guard members built a nine-hole golf course on base to help Arnie continue his development.
As Arnold’s enlistment came to an end, he returned to competitive golf and in 1954 won the prestigious US Amateur in Detroit, Michigan. After much discussion and consideration with his father, Jerome, Arnold would turn pro later that year, saying, “that triumph was the turning point in my life,” he said. “It gave me confidence I could compete at the game’s highest level.” Even legendary golfer Gene Littler commented in a post-round interview that “Arnold would one day win every major and that when he strikes the ball, the earth literally shakes.”
On his love for the game of golf, Palmer is quoted as saying, “What most other people find in poetry or a good book, I find in the flight of a good drive off the tee.”
After capturing, the US Amateur Arnie quit his job as a paint salesman and qualified for the Waite Memorial Tournament played at Shawnee-on-Delaware, in Pennsylvania. It tuned out to be a life-changing decision for Arnold, who met Winifred Walzer; the two would marry and remain so until 1999 when Winifred passed away.
Arnolds career and notable achievements
Palmer captured his first pro victory in 1955 during his rookie season at the Canadian Open and took home a winner’s cheque of $2,400. The tournament win acted as a springboard for Palmer, who would go onto elevate his game over the next few years.
Arnold was the driving force behind golf’s rise to fame, and his play, along with his charismatic personality, firmly established golf as compelling TV right throughout the 1950s and 60s. Many experts believe that it was Arnold who single-handedly transformed the game of golf from a boring game played by wealthy white elites to a game accessible to the masses.
In 1958 Arnold won his first Masters tournament earning him $11,250 and established himself as one of the game’s rising stars. In 1960 Arnold would become the first golfer to be signed by prominent sports representative Mark McCormack. In later interviews, McCormack said he signed Arnold for five main reasons; he was handsome, he came from a working-class background, his swashbuckling and hard-charging style of golf, his kind and pleasant personality, and his performances in major tournaments that had been televised.
Many experts also credit Arnold for raising the reputation of golf’s oldest major tournament, the British Open. Before Arnold, only a few Americans regularly made the journey across the pond to play. One such American was the great Ben Hogan, who captured the Open Championships in 1953. The British Open or the Open Championship required extensive travel, and many just weren’t prepared to go, mainly because the prize purse was so small compared to American tournaments. The Open Championships are also played on links-style courses, which are night and day to the lush manicured fairways of the American Country Clubs.
In 1960 Palmer ventured back to the British Open wherein his own words said he played the four best rounds of this life, with rounds of 70, 71, 70, and 68. That same year Palmer had already captured the Masters and the US Open and was looking to emulate his compatriot , Ben Hogan, by winning all four majors in the calendar year. Palmer had the crowds excited but would eventually finish runner up to Kel Nagle by a single stroke. Regardless, Arnold won the hearts of the European fans and paved the way for more American pros to make the trek across.
Bitterly disappointed by his second-place finish in 1960, Arnold returned in 1961 to capture the Open Championship and would back it up in by winning again the following year. Arnold brought with him a plethora of rising talent from the States, further cementing the Open Championship as one of golf’s most important tournaments. At the time, Chief Executive of The R&A, Martin Slumbers, said of Arnold ” “he’s a true gentleman, one of the greatest ever to play the game and a truly iconic figure in the sport.”
Arnold’s participation in the 1960 Open championship served as the catalyst and opened the door for international players of all nations.
Arnold’s major victories:
- The Masters at Augusta National 1958, 60, 62 and 64
- The US Open in 1960
- The Open Championship 1961 and 62
Palmer’s best years were from 1960 to 1963, where he won an astounding 29 PGA events, including five major championships. The great man was awarded with the Hickok Belt in 1960, which is presented to the best professional athlete of the year, including Sportsman of the Year, which is presented by Sports Illustrated. In 1967 Palmer was the first golfer to amass $1 million career prize money and was soon followed by his good friends and rivals, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Arnold’s fan base continued to grow with the creation of “Arnie’s Army.” Although Nicklaus and Player had clearly gained the upper edge in the trios rivalry, Arnold showed uncanny consistency, winning a sanctioned PGA tournament every year between 1955 to 1971. In 1971 he enjoyed somewhat of a revival capturing four events that year.
Notable golfing achievements
- Arnold had the lowest scoring average and won the Vardon Trophy on four occasions in 1961, 61, 64, and 67.
- He was a member of six Ryder Cups, 1961, 63, 65, 67, 71, and 73.
- In 1963 he was the last captain to play the event
In 1980 Palmer played in the inaugural Seniors Tour hosted by the PGA Tour and was one of the big names that helped make the tour a success. Arnold continued his domination on the Seniors Tour, winning a total of ten events which included a further five Major Senior Championships.
Arnold won the inaugural World Matchplay Championship, which was the brainchild of his agent, Mark McCormack. The tournament was seen as a way for McCormack to showcase the impressive list of players under his belt. The two would go on to forge one of the most profitable and long-lasting relationships in sporting history. Even after Palmer stopped dominating the game, his earnings continued to grow partly due to his charismatic personality but mainly because of his vast sponsorship deals and business interests.
In 2004, Arnold teed it up at the Masters for the very last time, which was fitting as it marked his 50th appearance at the home of golf. Until his death, Arnold and the Golden Bear were the only regular members of the Masters organizing committee.
Palmer was the Honorary starter for the Master’s Tournament right up until he died in 2016. His last official event was the Administaff Small Business Classic in 2006. He withdrew himself from the event after just four holes citing poor performance not fitting of a professional golfer. Arnold finished the round with his playing partners but did not keep a scorecard.
Arnold and his business interests
Arnold enjoyed a diverse number of business interests off the golf course. He was well known as an astute businessman who held honorable and trustworthy beliefs when it came to doing business.
Arnold’s pride and joy is the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, located in Orlando, Florida. The Course is the home of one of golf’s most cherished tournaments, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, formerly known prior to 2007 as the Bay Hill Invitational. Arnold was also instrumental in helping to found the Golf Channel and helped negotiate a deal with the Chinese Government to build the country’s first golf course.
Stemming from that business deal came the Arnold Palmer Course Design Company, which Arnold founded with a business partner and good friend Ed Seay. The company has built and designed more than 300 golf resorts, country clubs, and courses in 37 states across America and 25 countries. Arnold has courses on every continent except for Antarctica and, as mentioned, was responsible for building the first course in China in 1988.
In 1971, Arnold made a purchase of great sentimental value when he bought the Latrobe Country Club, the same club his father worked at as head professional and greenkeeper for more than 50 years. All endorsements, licensing, marketing, spokesman associates, and commercial interests are under the umbrella of Arnold Palmer Enterprises. Arnold was also a sitting member of the American Society of Golf Course Designers.
In 1997, Palmer and Tiger Woods initiated a lawsuit against Bruce Matthews, selling unauthorized signatures, of the two legends from his Gotta Have It Golf Inc. Matthews counter-sued claiming breach of contract and was eventually awarded nearly $700,000 in damages. The jury concluded that Woods and Palmer had, in fact, committed a breach of contract along with breach of good faith and unfair practices.
In 2001 Arnold started manufacturing his well know drink,” The Arnold Palmer,” which is a combination of lemonade and sweet tea.
The Arnold Palmer Legacy
Elvis Presley was not the only superstar to be known as “The King.” Due to his iconic status and popularity, Arnold was also referred to as the King. Yet, unlike Elvis, Palmer remained down to earth and never lost touch with the common man. Jack Nicklaus called Arnold a man of the people because he would sign every autograph put in front of him, even if it was after an exhausting round of golf.
Jack said of Arnold, “there was not one player who ever did more for the game than Arnie.” As soon as Arnold entered the club or dining room, the atmosphere transformed; Arnold and his bigger-than-life presence fixated people. Put simply, Arnold made golf cool; he transcended the game and was so much more than a pro golfer; he was a cultural and sporting icon, a legend, a pioneer, and trailblazer who single-handedly popularized the game of golf.
In the James Bond film Goldfinger, Arnold was even mentioned when Bond’s caddy said, “If that’s Goldfinger’s original ball, I’m Arnold Palmer.” Arnold was ranked the sixth-best player of all time in 2000 by renowned golfing publication Golf Digest and had career earnings of more than $30 million.
Arnold was inducted into the Wake Forest University Omicron Delta Kappa and the National Honor Society in 1964. But perhaps his most prestigious achievement came when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2004 and 2009. Arnold was the first golfer to achieve the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the second golfer behind Byron Nelson to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Additionally, Arnold’s list of impressive awards continued to grow as he was the honorary starter for the Masters Tournament from 2007 and until his passing. Jack Nicklaus was also appointed to join Arnold in 2010 by the committee at Augusta National. In a fitting gesture, the “big three,” Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player, were reunited in 2012 and hit the honorary tee shots for the 76th Masters.
James Dodson, the famed sports biographer, said it best “We loved him with a mythical American delight… He embodied everything great about golf. The camaraderie, the friendship, the laughter, the impossibility of golf, the impulsive rapture moment that brings you back, a moment that you never forget, that’s Arnold Palmer in spades. He’s the defining figure in golf.”