Over the weekend, at home in his native Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “The King” passed away at the ripe, old age of 87. Arnold Palmer had been a living legend for the previous seven decades and the professional golf community immediately began to roll out the well-deserved red carpet treatment in remembrance of the man who brought the sport they love to the masses long before Tiger Woods or Twitter existed.
OMGosh sad news! Will miss that vice handshake and glint in your eye as you tried to crush my hand! RIP King Arnold pic.twitter.com/b9eDVP9ADJ
— Sir Nick Faldo (@NickFaldo006) September 26, 2016
Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend.
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) September 26, 2016
All athletes who compete at the highest levels of their respective sports are endowed with some natural, God-given ability. But golf is a game that requires an unnatural amount of self-discipline and patience—qualities above and beyond pure coordination and athletic prowess. It is as much mental as it is physical.
From humble beginnings as the son of a golf course groundskeeper in western Pennsylvania, to his time serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, to an impressive collegiate career at Wake Forest University, to his exciting debut on the PGA Tour in 1955, Arnold Palmer was a man who exuded a wonderful mixture of larger-than-life charisma and blue-collar self-control. Whereas other titans of the game—Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, most notably—won more tournaments while being known for their gruff exteriors, Palmer was able to find a way to excel in an individual sport while simultaneously seeming to invite everyone else to get in on the fun.
Much of this was due to the fact that Arnold Palmer always looked like he was having a good time when he played; and the camera—not to mention millions of fans around the world—loved him for it. He cared about what he did and how it was done. In recounting favorite memories of “Mr. Palmer,” many current professional golfers have shared memories of the respect, if not reverence, Palmer had for rules and etiquette. Whether it was asking the CEO of a corporate sponsorship partner to remove his hat in the clubhouse, or calling a tour official over to acknowledge a penalty error he had committed (even though no one else saw it), Arnold Palmer made it a priority to create an environment around himself in which integrity and accountability went hand-in-hand with joy and compassion.
During his life, he helped in the design of over 200 golf courses around the globe. He was the first and definitive face of golf on television in the early 1960s, bringing the game to legions of new fans. He mentored young players and created tournament opportunities for them to showcase their skills.
But beyond the impact he had on the sport of golf, Arnold Palmer touched the lives of countless human beings.
From USA Today:
“In 1989, after Palmer played a major role in a fund-raising drive, the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children & Women in Orlando opened. The first baby was born within hours after the ribbon cutting. Since, nearly 200,000 children have been born there.
In 2002, Arnie’s Army Battles Prostate Cancer was launched and more than 2,500 tournaments across the country sponsored by the organization have raised more than $3 million for prostate cancer research.”
Palmer was married to the same woman for forty-five years. He kept a home in the same area he grew up in until the day he died. He gave back to his community. He did tangible, lasting things with his fame and fortune. And according to first-hand accounts from those who knew him well, such as the Golf Channel’s Dan Hicks, Palmer treated everyone from the kid parking cars to the former US presidents he considered friends exactly the same way.
Measured. Thoughtful. Compassionate. The King will be missed.