The King will never, ever be forgotten
The game of golf has been left with a gaping hole following the untimely death of Arnold Palmer at the age of 87.
It is a void which is much larger than the sum of the American’s four Masters, two Open and one US Open titles and much more significant than the paltry $6.9 million in official prize money he amassed during five decades as golf’s most popular and revered tour professional.
What occurred that day was nothing less than the passing of a legend. An iconic figure who breathed new life into golf back into the 50s, 60s and ‘70s and who almost single-handedly brought a hitherto predominantly Country Club sport to the masses. A man who jealously guarded golf’s traditions but who still built a multi-million dollar business. The savour of The Open Championship. A consummate course architect. A pilot. A devoted family man. An out-and-out star.
I have been a fan of Palmer’s ever since I first saw grainy TV pictures of him mauling golf courses back in the late 60s. His success on the golf course was relatively short – those seven major victories spanned just six years – but his appeal has never dimmed.
Palmer’s cavalier style was one of his great charms even if it did cost him titles from time to time. He was also handsome and charismatic but what set him apart from almost all other superstars was his human touch. He seemed to leave an indelible mark on everyone he met.
I’m not sure Palmer ever declined to sign an autograph and he certainly did not for me as a 10-year-old when I managed to get three signatures from him in one day in the lead up to the 1968 Open at Carnoustie. On the third occasion he did pat me on the head and said “haven’t we done this before” but then signed my book anyway. I still have it to this day.
Palmer had time for everyone and treated everyone with respect. He was never happier than when playing golf with his mates in the mid-week roll-up at Bay Hill but he was also mindful of his responsibilities both to the media and to the game of golf as a whole. My friend and fellow golf writer Derek Lawrenson tells a great story about being granted a 15-minute audience with Palmer in the library at Bay Hill but then still being there a couple of hours later. He was a wonderful raconteur as I also found out on the three occasions I interviewed him face-to-face and all three will remain among the highlights of my career.
I admit I shed a tear when I woke on the morning of September 26 to learn of his death and think it is fair to say I was not the only one. The subsequent tributes have been universally and deservedly glowing none more so than the one from Rory McIlroy just after he had pocketed more than $11 million for winning the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup.
The Northern Irelander absolutely nailed it when asked to comment on Palmer’s legacy.
“He was the most influential man in the history of golf,” said the former World No. 1. “Arnold wasn’t the most successful player ever but in the 1960s and 70s he was the player who brought the game to the masses. If it wasn’t for Arnold Palmer we wouldn’t be playing for these obscene amounts of money every week.
“I don’t think anyone in sport has left a legacy like Arnold Palmer has. You come to the United States and there is even a drink named after him,” he added. “It’s incredible what he did, his character, his charisma, everything about him. I was just so fortunate that I was able to spend a little bit of time with him in the last couple of years. I will always cherish that and remember that. He was a very good man and a generous man. He will live long in the memory of a lot of people.”
The King is dead but will never, ever be forgotten.