Arnold Palmer, makes his final swing
Arnold Palmer was one of the game of golf’s most colourful and charismatic figures. It was Palmers magnificent ability and the way he played the game in the late fifties and sixties that drew the crowds and eventually the TV cameras to the sport.
In his career Palmer won 91 professional tour titles including 62 PGA tour events, seven majors, The Masters (4), The Open (2), and The US Open (1). However, he was less successful in the US PGA coming runner up three times. It was the way he played the game that captured imaginations, he had an aggressive technique with his shots, hitting the ball hard in a cavalier style and strong charisma which endured him to the people. As former golfer and now BBC commentator Peter Alliss said ‘They fell in love with Arnold Palmer’.
His impact on the game, style of play and personality was best summed up in 1960 by Time Magazine while at his peak
“Win or lose, Palmer, with his daring, slashing attack, is fun to watch. He is a splendidly built athlete (5ft 11in, 177 lbs) with strength in all the right places: massive shoulders and arms, a waist hardly big enough to hold his trousers up, thick wrists, and leather-hard, outsized hands that can crumple a beer can as though it were tissue paper. Like baseball buffs, golf fans dote on the long-ball hitter; they pack six deep behind the tee to gasp in admiration as Power Man Palmer unwinds to send a 280-yard drive down the fairway.”
Arnold was the first in a group of three players to set the game alive in the sixties. He was signed by Mark McCormack as his first management client to help Palmer deal with the requests for personal appearances, speaker and corporate sponsorships. Palmer was quickly followed by Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, becoming known as ‘the big three’ who dominated Golf in that period. In many ways you can credit Palmer as being the first media superstar of Sport. The way he behaved and handled his success was a credit to the game and himself. BBC sports reporter Dan Walker said ‘Some stars inspire individuals to follow in their footsteps… others inspire a generation’
Palmer most certainly transcended his sport and there were those that just turned up to watch him play following him to every hole. These became known as Arnie’s Army. Arnold by playing in the Open championship in 1960 help revive its fortunes as a tournament, losing by just one stroke but winning the title in the next two years. Former Tennis star Billie Jean King said ‘a man who brought golf to the people and made us all part of Arnie’s Army’. Palmer was respected and highly liked, he even had a drink named after him ‘The Arnie Cocktail’ that consisted of one part iced tea and one part lemonade.
He and McCormack set up Arnold Palmer Enterprises which had many facets such as merchandising, automobiles and aviation. He was also one of the first pro-golfers to go into golf course design after his career finished. Arnold also was heavily involved in charity work spending much time raising funds for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, which he opened in 1980. Golfer Tiger woods went further than the game of Golf in his praise saying “Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend.”
It has been said that Arnold set the standards of not only playing the game but of sportsmanship and behaviour off the course. Indeed, The US Golf Association described him as ‘golf’s greatest ambassador’. He was ever present at the major tournaments after his career finished, often in banter with his past playing colleagues Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus who was shocked at ‘losing a great friend’.
Arnold Palmer died at the age of 87
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.