Everyone Knew Arnold Palmer Was a Big Deal

AUGUSTA, GA - 1950's: Arnold Palmer, Clifford Roberts and President Dwight D. Eisenhower share a laugh during the 1950's Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Augusta National/Getty Images)

Psychologists say that normal people never actually want to be anyone else. The healthy outlook is to admire what another person has and often wish those same benefits were bestowed upon you. Men over 70 wanted to be Arnold Palmer.

The golfing icon died yesterday at UPMC hospital after 87 years of having a great time every single day.

“The King,” as he was nicknamed, was a seven-time major winner, including four wins at the Masters.  It says something about his charm, charisma, and business savvy that his last major win was in 1964, yet he still earned upwards of $40 million dollars a year in endorsements until his death.

He is credited with popularizing golf around the world especially with his call to make the British Open, the world’s oldest golf tournament, a cherished trophy once again. Before he played his first British in 1960, only three Americans had played it over the previous seven years as they were put off by the travel and comparatively low prize money. Palmer’s regular play overseas and his triumph at Royal Birkdale in 1961 revitalized the British Open and gave it the cache it has today for Americans.

Palmer was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and learned the game from his father Deacon, who was the head pro and greens keeper at Latrobe Country Club. He attended Wake Forest but left to join the Coast Guard after the sudden death of his best friend Bud Worsham threw him into a tailspin. He did return to Wake Forest after 3 years and then embarked on his stellar pro golf career.

Palmer’s greatest triumph was the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in Colorado. He erased a seven-stroke deficit with a round of 65 on Sunday overtaking such legends as Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Ben Hogan. He also had a few collapses, most notoriously his meltdown on the back nine to throw away a seven-stroke lead handing the 1966 U.S. Open to Billy Casper. The PGA Championship was the one major title that he never won, costing him the career grand slam. He finished second three times.

While 62 PGA Tour wins and seven majors are impressive on their own, they don’t convey the hold Palmer’s persona had on the American public in the 1960s.

Arnie’s Army, Palmer’s devoted fanbase was a boisterous presence at each of the events he played. Palmer had a way of connecting with fans young and old. He was really handsome, so that probably didn’t hurt. But more than that, he was relatable and came of as a man’s man in an era when that was considered a virtue. Upon viewing some of his iconic photographs with his shirt untucked and a cigarette dangling from his lips, you can’t help but think, I bet it was a lot of fun to hang around with The King.

As if being one of the world’s best golfers wasn’t enough, he was also an excellent pilot who flew with the Blue Angels and landed a military jet on an aircraft carrier. Palmer said that after marrying his wife, learning to fly was the greatest decision he’d ever made.

Palmer was a loving husband to Winnie, his late wife of 45 years, and father to daughters Peggy and Amy. His golfing legacy lives on in Sam Saunders, Arnie’s grandson who tees it up on the PGA tour.


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