Avid golfer Barack Obama paid tribute to “The King” of golf on Monday, one day after Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87.
Obama said in an official press release that the golf legend “had swagger before we had a name for it.” The president added, “Arnold was the American Dream come to life.”
Palmer was a child of the depression born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, 50 miles outside of Pittsburgh in 1929 to Milfred “Deacon” Palmer and his wife Doris. Arnie spent much of his youth helping his father at the Latrobe Country Club, where Deacon worked as the golf course superintendent and later the club’s golf professional.
Like his dad Arnie became adroit in the game as well, elevating his game to a high level capturing the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1954. The rest, shall we say, is history, as “The King” went on to win seven major championships, along with 87 other tournaments, and became the most popular and richest golfer the world has ever seen.
But Arnie’s true greatness was his ability to connect with the on-course spectators and living-room sports viewers as golf became more and more popular with the rise of television. Fans idolized him for his down-to-earth personality, his incredible athleticism, willingness to have at it no matter the risk, and his upbeat, high-energy spirit that he brought to the game.
As Obama said in his press release:
Along the way he racked up win after win – but it wasn’t his success that made him King. Arnold’s freewheeling, fearless approach to the game inspired a generation of golfers and, for the first time on TV, enthralled an audience across the world. Sure, we liked that he won seven majors, but we loved that he went for it when he probably should have laid up.
That spirit extended beyond the links where he gave freely of himself and poured everything he had into everything he did: from building hospitals to personally responding to countless letters from his fans. And he did it all with a grin that hinted maybe he had one more shot up his sleeve.
It was another presidential golf fanatic that Arnie grew extremely close to over his playing days. World War II hero and 34th president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Palmer wrote in his book, A Golfer’s Life, that he “loved [Eisenhower] like a second father.” He added that after their first playing together in a tournament at Augusta in 1960 “our meetings on the golf course became more frequent and our playing companionship deepened into a genuine friendship that, for me at least, eclipsed any relationship I’d ever had with an older man besides my father. He loved to hear me talk about tour life, and I loved to hear him reminisce about his wartime experiences and reflect on current events.”
Palmer liked to tell the story of the time he gave Ike a golf lesson to keep his elbow tucked into his side after noticing the president’s flying right elbow on his back swing. “Bless him,” Palmer wrote, “like the good soldier he was, in his determination to keep that right wing tucked as ordered, he’d actually rubbed the skin off his arm. When I pointed it out to him, he acted as if it were nothing but a scratch and completely dismissed my concern.”