|Palmer in September 2009|
|Full name||Arnold Daniel Palmer|
|Born||September 10, 1929|
Latrobe, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||September 25, 2016 (aged 87) |
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Height||5 ft 10 in (178 cm)|
|Weight||185 lb (84 kg)|
(m. 1954; her death 1999)
(m. 2005; his death 2016)
|College||Wake Forest College|
|Former tour(s)||PGA Tour|
Senior PGA Tour
|Number of wins by tour|
|PGA Tour||62 (5th all time)|
|PGA Tour of Australasia||2|
|PGA Tour Champions||10|
|Best results in major championships|
|Masters Tournament||Won: 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964|
|U.S. Open||Won: 1960|
|The Open Championship||Won: 1961, 1962|
|PGA Championship||T2: 1964, 1968, 1970|
|Achievements and awards|
|World Golf Hall of Fame||1974 (member page)|
leading money winner
|1958, 1960, 1962, 1963|
|PGA Player of the Year||1960, 1962|
|Vardon Trophy||1961, 1962, 1964, 1967|
Sportsman of the Year
|Bob Jones Award||1971|
|Old Tom Morris Award||1983|
|PGA Tour Lifetime|
|Payne Stewart Award||2000|
|Congressional Gold Medal||2009|
Arnold Daniel Palmer (September 10, 1929 – September 25, 2016) was an American professional golfer who is generally regarded as one of the greatest and most charismatic players in the sport’s history. Dating back to 1955, he won numerous events on both the PGA Tour and the circuit now known as PGA Tour Champions. Nicknamed The King, he was one of golf’s most popular stars and seen as a trailblazer, the first superstar of the sport’s television age, which began in the 1950s.
Palmer’s social impact on behalf of golf was perhaps unrivaled among fellow professionals; his humble background and plain-spoken popularity helped change the perception of golf from an elite, upper-class pastime (private clubs) to a more populist sport accessible to middle and working classes (public courses).[ Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player were “The Big Three” in golf during the 1960s; they are widely credited with popularizing and commercializing the sport around the world.
In a career spanning more than six decades, he won 62 PGA Tour titles from 1955 to 1973. As of today, he is fifth on the Tour’s all-time victory list, trailing only Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Ben Hogan. He won seven major titles in a six-plus-year domination from the 1958 Masters to the 1964 Masters. He also won the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and in 1974 was one of the 13 original inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame.[
Palmer, age 23, while in the
U.S. Coast Guard in 1953
Palmer in 1953
Palmer was born to Doris (Morrison) and Milfred Jerome “Deacon” Palmer (1905–1976) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a working-class steel mill town. He learned golf from his father, who had suffered from polio at a young age and was head professional and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, which allowed young Palmer to accompany his father as he maintained the course.
Palmer attended Wake Forest College on a golf scholarship.[ He left upon the death of close friend Bud Worsham (1929–1950) and enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he served for three years, 1951–1954. At the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, New Jersey, he built a nine-hole course and had some time to continue to hone his golf skills. After his enlistment term ended, Palmer returned to college and competitive golf.
Palmer won the 1954 U.S. Amateur in Detroit and made the decision to turn pro in November of that year.[ “That victory was the turning point in my life,” he said. “It gave me confidence I could compete at the highest level of the game.” When reporters there asked Gene Littler who the young golfer was that was cracking balls on the practice tee, Littler said: “That’s Arnold Palmer. He’s going to be a great player some day. When he hits the ball, the earth shakes.”
After winning that match, Palmer quit his job selling paint and played in the Waite Memorial tournament in Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pennsylvania. There, he met his future wife, Winifred Walzer, and they would remain married for 45 years until her death in 1999.[
On November 17, 1954, Palmer announced his intentions to turn pro.[ “What other people find in poetry, I find in the flight of a good drive,” Palmer said.
Palmer’s first tour win came during his 1955 rookie season, when he won the Canadian Open and earned $2,400 for his efforts.[ He raised his game status for the next several seasons. Palmer’s charisma was a major factor in establishing golf as a compelling television event in the 1950s and 1960s, which set the stage for the popularity it enjoys today. His first major championship win at the 1958 Masters Tournament, where he earned $11,250, established his position as one of the leading stars in golf, and by 1960 he had signed up as pioneering sports agent Mark McCormack‘s first client.
In later interviews, McCormack listed five attributes that made Palmer especially marketable: his good looks; his relatively modest background (his father was a greenskeeper before rising to be club professional and Latrobe was a humble club); the way he played golf, taking risks and wearing his emotions on his sleeve; his involvement in a string of exciting finishes in early televised tournaments; and his affability.[
Palmer is also credited by many for securing the status of The Open Championship (British Open) among U.S. players. Before Ben Hogan won that championship in 1953, few American professionals had traveled to play in The Open, due to its extensive travel requirements, relatively small purse, and the style of its links courses (radically different from most American courses). Palmer wanted to emulate the feats of his predecessors Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Hogan in his quest to become a leading American golfer.[
In particular, Palmer traveled to Scotland in 1960 to compete in the British Open for the first time. He had already won both the Masters and U.S. Open and was trying to emulate Hogan’s 1953 feat of winning all three tournaments in a single year. Palmer played what he himself said were the four best rounds of his career, shooting 71-69-67-69. His scores had the English excitedly claiming that Palmer may well be the greatest golfer ever to play the game. British fans were excited about Palmer’s playing in the Open. Although he failed to win, losing out to Kel Nagle by a single shot, his subsequent Open wins in the early 1960s convinced many American pros that a trip to Britain would be worth the effort, and certainly secured Palmer’s popularity among British and European fans, not just American ones.
Palmer was greatly disappointed by his runner-up finish in the 1960 British Open. His appearance overseas drew American attention to the Open Championship, which had previously been ignored by the American golfers. Palmer went on to win the Open Championship in 1961 and 1962, and last played in it in 1995. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, called Palmer “a true gentleman, one of the greatest ever to play the game and a truly iconic figure in sport”. His participation in The Open Championship in the early 1960s “was the catalyst to truly internationalize golf,” said European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.
Palmer won seven major championships:
Palmer’s most prolific years were 1960–1963, when he won 29 PGA Tour events, including five major tournaments, in four seasons. In 1960, he won the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” award. He built up a wide fan base, often referred to as “Arnie’s Army”, and in 1967 he became the first man to reach $1 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. By the late 1960s Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player had both acquired clear ascendancy in their rivalry, but Palmer won a PGA Tour event every year from 1955 to 1971 inclusive, and in 1971 he enjoyed a revival, winning four events.
Palmer won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average four times: 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1967. He played on six Ryder Cup teams: 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1973. He was the last playing captain in 1963, and captained the team again in 1975.
Palmer was eligible for the Senior PGA Tour (now PGA Tour Champions) from its first season in 1980, and he was one of the marquee names who helped it to become successful. He won ten events on the tour, including five senior majors.[
Palmer won the first World Match Play Championship that was held in England. The event was originally organized by McCormack to showcase his stable of players. Their partnership was one of the most significant in the history of sports marketing. Long after he ceased to win tournaments, Palmer remained one of the highest earners in golf due to his appeal to sponsors and the public.[
In 2004, he competed in the Masters Tournament for the last time, marking his 50th consecutive appearance in that event. At his death, he and Jack Nicklaus were the only two Masters champions to be regular members of Masters organizer Augusta National Golf Club (as opposed to the honorary membership the club grants to all Masters champions).
From 2007 until his death, Palmer served as an honorary starter for the Masters.[ He retired from tournament golf on October 13, 2006, when he withdrew from the Champions Tours’ Administaff Small Business Classic after four holes due to dissatisfaction with his own play. He played the remaining holes but did not keep score.
Palmer had a diverse golf-related business career, including owning the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida, which is the venue for the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational (renamed from the Bay Hill Invitational in 2007), helping to found The Golf Channel,[ and negotiating the deal to build the first golf course in the People’s Republic of China. This led to the formation of Palmer Course Design in 1972, which was renamed Arnold Palmer Design Company when the company moved to Orlando, Florida, in 2006. Palmer’s design partner was Ed Seay.
Palmer designed more than 300 golf courses in 37 states, 25 countries, and five continents (all except Africa and Antarctica), including the first modern course built in China, in 1988.[ In 1971, he purchased Latrobe Country Club (where his father used to be the club professional) and owned it until his death. The licensing, endorsements, spokesman associations and commercial partnerships built by Palmer and McCormack are managed by Arnold Palmer Enterprises. Palmer was also a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects.
In 1997, Palmer and fellow golfer Tiger Woods initiated a civil case in an effort to stop the unauthorized sale of their images and alleged signatures in the memorabilia market. The lawsuit was filed against Bruce Matthews, the owner of Gotta Have It Golf, Inc. and others. Matthews and associated parties counter-claimed that Palmer and associated businesses committed several acts, including breach of contract, breach of implied duty of good faith and violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act.[ On March 12, 2014, a Florida jury ruled in favor of Gotta Have It on its breach of contract and other related claims. The same jury rejected the counterclaims of Palmer and Woods, and awarded Gotta Have It $668,346 in damages.
As a measure of his popularity, Palmer, like Elvis Presley before him, was known simply as “The King.” But in a life bursting from the seams with success, Palmer never lost his common touch. He was a man of the people, willing to sign every autograph, shake every hand, and tried to look every person in his gallery in the eye.
According to Adam Schupak of Golf Week, “No one did more to popularize the sport than Palmer”. “His dashing presence singlehandedly took golf out of the country clubs and into the mainstream. Quite simply, he made golf cool.”Jack Nicklaus said:
Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself.[
Palmer was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.[ He was the first golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the second golfer, after Byron Nelson, to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
In addition to Palmer’s impressive list of awards, he was bestowed the honor of kicking off the Masters Tournament beginning in 2007. From 2007 to 2009, Palmer was the sole honorary starter. In 2010, longtime friend and competitor Jack Nicklaus was appointed by Augusta National to join Palmer.[ In 2012, golf’s The Big Three reunited as South African golfer Gary Player joined for the ceremonial tee shots as honorary starters for the 76th playing of the Masters Tournament. In describing the effect that Palmer had on the sport, biographer James Dodson stated:
We loved him with a mythic American joy… He represented everything that is great about golf. The friendship, the fellowship, the laughter, the impossibility of golf, the sudden rapture moment that brings you back, a moment that you never forget, that’s Arnold Palmer in spades. He’s the defining figure in golf.[
The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida
Palmer was married to the former Winnie Walzer (1934–1999)[ for 45 years; the couple had two daughters. She died at age 65 on November 20, 1999, from complications due to ovarian cancer. His grandson, Sam Saunders, is a professional golfer who grew up playing at Bay Hill, where he won the club championship at age 15. He attended Clemson University in South Carolina on a golf scholarship and turned pro in 2008. Saunders stated that Palmer’s family nickname is “Dumpy”. He married his second wife, Kathleen Gawthrop, in 2005 in Hawaii.
During the spring and summer months, Palmer resided in Latrobe, and he spent winters in Orlando and La Quinta, California.[ He first visited Orlando in 1948 during a college match. When he took up residence in Orlando, Palmer helped the city become a recreation destination, “turning the entire state of Florida into a golfing paradise”. That included building one of the premier events on the PGA Tour there along with his contributing to new hospitals. On hearing about Palmer’s death, Tiger Woods said, “My kids were born at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, and his philanthropic work will be remembered along with his accomplishments in golf.” Arnold Palmer Boulevard is named in his honor.
Palmer had supported Scottish football club Rangers F.C. since his boyhood.[ He was a member of the Freemasons since 1958. Palmer created the Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation to help children and youth. The Foundation saw the creation of the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies Center, The Howard Philips Center for Children & Families, the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, and the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve. He was also a spokesman for Hertz Rent-a-Car.
During his playing career, Arnold Palmer smoked cigarettes, which caused him to battle an addiction to nicotine. He noted that many of his colleagues smoked, and he even endorsed the product in television commercials. Later in life, Palmer made a complete about-face and urged the public to give up smoking. He said that cigarette smoking has a negative effect on every organ in the body.[
Palmer was a Republican, and donated money to Pat Toomey, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and George W Bush. He was approached on multiple occasions by the Republican Party encouraging him to run for political office, but declined on each occasion.[
Arnold Palmer statue unveiled at Laurel Valley Golf Course, Ligonier, PA, on September 10, 2009, in honor of Palmer’s 80th birthday. Pictured: Arnold Palmer with sculptor Zenos Frudakis.
Palmer’s early “fear of flying” was what led him to pursue his pilot certificate. After almost 55 years, he logged nearly 20,000 hours of flight time in various aircraft.[ His personal website reads:
Next to marrying his wife, Winnie, and deciding on a professional career in golf, there’s only one decision Arnold Palmer considers smarter. Learning how to fly an airplane.[
On Palmer’s 70th birthday in 1999, Westmoreland County Airport in Latrobe was renamed Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in his honor. According to their website: “[The airport] started as the Longview Flying Field in 1924. It became J.D. Hill Airport in 1928, Latrobe Airport in 1935 and Westmoreland County Airport in 1978. Complementing a rich history rooted in some of the earliest pioneers of aviation, the name was changed to Arnold Palmer Regional in 1999 to honor the Latrobe native golf legend who grew up less than a mile from the runway where he watched the world’s first official airmail pickup in 1939 and later learned to fly himself.” There is a statue of Palmer made by Zenos Frudakis, holding a golf club in front of the airport’s entrance, unveiled in 2007.
Palmer thought he would pilot a plane for the last time on January 31, 2011,[ and flew from Palm Springs in California to Orlando in his Cessna Citation X. His pilot’s medical certificate expired that day and he chose not to renew it. However, public FAA records show he was issued a new third-class medical in May 2011.
- A Life Well Played: My Stories (2016) ISBN 9781250085948
- Reflections on the Game (2012, with Thomas Hauser. Originally published as Arnold Palmer: A Personal Journey, 1994) ISBN 9780002554688
- Arnold Palmer: Memories, Stories, and Memorabilia from a Life on and off the Course (2004) ISBN 9781584793304
- Playing by the Rules: The Rules of Golf Explained & Illustrated from a Lifetime in the Game (2002) ISBN 9780743450225
- A Golfer’s Life (1999, with James Dodson) ISBN 9780345414816
- Arnold Palmer’s Complete Book of Putting (1986, with Peter Dobereiner) ISBN 9780689116247
- Arnold Palmer’s Best 54 Golf Holes (1977) ISBN 9780385052597
- Go for Broke! My Philosophy of Winning Golf (1973, with William Barry Furlong) ISBN 9780671214784
- 495 Golf Lessons (1973, with Earl Puckett) ISBN 9780695804022
- Golf Tactics (1970) ISBN 9780695804022
- Situation Golf (1970) ISBN 978-0841500235
- My Game and Yours (1965) ISBN 9780671471958
Palmer died on September 25, 2016 (shortly after his 87th birthday) while awaiting heart surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Shadyside) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[ He was admitted three days earlier to undergo testing on his heart. After his funeral, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in his hometown at Latrobe Country Club. His estate was valued at $875 million and was divided between his two daughters, his second wife (who received $10 million), eight employees who received $25,000 each, and his charity, Arnie’s Army, which received $10 million.
From a humble start working at the local club in his beloved Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to superstardom as the face of golf around the globe, Arnold was the American Dream come to life… Today, Michelle and I stand with Arnie’s Army in saluting the King.
President Barack Obama[
Less than a week after Palmer died, his life was celebrated by both teams at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, just outside the Twin Cities.[The celebration included a video tribute and a moment of silence during the opening ceremony, which also included tributes from the opposing captains – Davis Love III for Team USA and Northern Ireland‘s Darren Clarke for Team Europe – and the opposing honorary captains – Nicklaus for Team USA and England‘s Tony Jacklin for Team Europe. During the matches, the players paid tribute to Palmer, which included wearing a special logo, button and pin. Palmer’s bag from the 1975 Ryder Cup was also placed on the first tee as a tribute. Palmer had won more than 22 Ryder Cup matches and had also captained Team USA to two victories, in addition to holding or being tied for the records for youngest captain, most career singles points and most points in a single Ryder Cup.PGA of America president Derek Sprague stated:
The game has never known a more enthusiastic sportsman than Arnold Palmer. So it is fitting that we pay tribute to Mr. Palmer during the 41st Ryder Cup, to celebrate it in a very special way, the life of an unforgettable champion and gracious ambassador of the game.[
Two days after a 17–11 victory, which marked the first American Ryder Cup triumph since 2008 at Valhalla and which Love dedicated to Palmer, the majority of the team attended the memorial service for Palmer at St. Vincent College in Latrobe and also brought the trophy after Palmer’s daughter Amy asked the team if they could do so.[