Viet Nam News
By Robert Bicknell
The greatest of all time, Arnold Palmer, known to most as “Arnie,” “The General” or “The King,” passed away last week at the age of 86.
When describing Arnie, it’s virtually impossible to find anything negative to say. The man was a consummate professional, a winner of seven Majors and 55 other titles, an amazing ambassador of golf, an innovator (first pro to own and pilot his own airplane, and a gentleman’s gentleman).
I daresay there isn’t golfer on the planet who didn’t like and admire Arnie.
Tailor made for the beginnings of televised golf, Arnold Palmer had movie star looks and a hard-charging, take no prisoners golf style which endeared him to the American public.
As amazing as it might seem today, there was a time when American pros refused to travel to Europe to play in the Open Championship because it was too far away, took too long to get there and was too expensive considering the purse was a mere US$1,250, more then 10 times less than the U.S. Open’s $14,400.
In 1960, Palmer won the Masters and U.S. Open and having his eyes on the Grand Slam, Palmer went to St. Andrews in 1960 to celebrate the event’s 100th anniversary, and while he didn’t win, he fell in love with the town and the tournament and realized the significance of links golf as a world championship.
In return, he won over the European golfing public with his style, attitude and charisma.
When Palmer returned the following year and won for the first time at Royal Birkdale, in front of an army of enthralled fans, he overcame poor weather conditions to secure a one shot victory over Dai Rees and lift the famous Claret Jug. He became Champion Golfer of the Year again at Royal Troon the following year with a six-shot victory over Kel Nagle and will always be remembered for the huge part he played in the growth of the Championship.
It was Arnie who made it rigueur du jour for US Professionals to play in the event because although Sam Snead won the Open in 1946 and Ben Hogan triumphed in 1953, American involvement in the post-World War II years was almost nonexistent. Palmer made his peers see the light.
Palmer, the businessman, made millions in endorsement money away from the course. His partnership with International Management Group defined the modern athlete-management business model that survives his death. That deal was struck with nothing more than a handshake with IMG founder Mark McCormack, until McCormack’s death in 2003.
Palmer was also golf’s first superstar-turned-elder-statesman. He was known to speak privately with many modern players about the importance of trying to connect with fans in small ways, from signing autographs legibly, to looking fans, pro-am partners and sponsor representatives in the eye on the golf course.
One thing that most people always remembered about Palmer was his habit of referring to everyone with respect. He learned that from his father who was the head pro and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, where he grew up.
Unlike many today who divorce for almost any reason possible, Arnie stayed married to Winnie Palmer for 45 years. She died at age 65 on November 20, 1999, from complications due to ovarian cancer.
Palmer remarried in 2005 to Kathleen Gawthrop.
In every generation, there is at least one personality who stands above the rest. Palmer had good company at the top of his profession in his day, but it was the arrival of Jack Nicklaus who helped to cement Arnie’s legacy.
In every sport there is a legendary rivalry. In golf it was Palmer and Nicklaus and it was this competition which helped gave Nicklaus world recognition as well. The upstart “fat kid” against Arnie and his “Army” of fans made for great storylines, as well as a great friendship.
Golf is different than other sports for many reasons, but one of the biggest one is that you can be great friends with your fiercest rival and this was the case between Nicklaus and Palmer.
Competitors on the course and in business, they managed to always remain friends, but that isn’t surprising given Arnie’s characture. It was almost impossible not to love the guy.
The king might be gone, but he will never be forgotten.-VNS