Arnold Palmer’s passing is the biggest golf story of the year. There are articles today in every newspaper about who he was and what he meant to the game. I won’t go over any of that. This post is about my personal recollections.
A number of years ago I posted my story about the one time I met him, when I was ten years old, getting his autograph. That was the start.
The Golden Age of Sport was whenever you were between the ages of about nine and fourteen. You’re old enough to know what’s going on, and young enough to still have heroes. That’s exactly where I was during Palmer’s rise, and he was my hero. I reveled in his victories. When he lost the 1966 U.S. Open I was despondent for days.
All my friends I golfed with liked him best. Really — who else was there to have as a favorite compared to the likes of Arnold Palmer?
Yes, he was charismatic. Yes, he was telegenic. But he was more than that. We learned (eventually) to admire Jack Nicklaus. We respected Gary Player. But Arnie was one of us. He never hid himself from us. The more attention he got from his fans, the more he thrived. The phenomenon of Arnie’s Army has never been duplicated — no other golfer has ever commanded than kind of attention. For a while there was Jack’s Pack, but it never got off the ground like the Army did.
In an time when most Tour pros had an idiosynchratic, home-grown golf swing that was recognizable two fairways away, Palmer’s was the the most recognizable and the most exciting. He didn’t swing at the ball, he attacked it, forcing it go where he wanted. Though a long hitter, he wasn’t that long, but he was very straight. The shots he took that looked like gambles generally weren’t. He knew he could pull it off and he did.
In the really 1960s Palmer won many times each year. It was said once that your tournament wasn’t a real success unless Arnie won it. How he won was exciting, too. It seems no other golfer could withstand his onslaught once he put his mind to winning.
But if that’s all there had been, he wouldn’t have been The King. It was his touch with people. A nicer man never walked the Earth. His warmth and charisma touched people on a personal level. His fondness for people was genuine. Given his status, he could have been anything he wanted, but in the end he never retreated from treating everyone he met with courtesy and respect, as if it were his honor to have met you.
We’ve had lots of good golfers over the years. But there has been only one Arnold Palmer. Long live The King.