Farewell, Arnie

Arnold Palmer, who passed away this week at the age of 87, was one of the three most influential American professional golfers in history.

“The King” was a major star for the sport as the age of television dawned, and it was that visual exposure to the world that made him a household name alongside fellow legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.

5184a4b99f2cf1e4631347449501c756Arnie, who went to Wake Forest College (now University) here in my home state of North Carolina, won 62 PGA Tour tournaments, including seven majors.

For men of the 1950s and 1960s, he was a charismatic competitor who was exciting to watch on the course. For women of the day, he was an attractive young man you could watch perform on TV.

His effort to enter the British Open (now The Open) championship and his success in winning the 1960 tournament led to more Americans entering the competition each year. Now, The Open is one of the four major tournaments players around the world chase each and every year.

The golfer from Latrobe, Pa., even has a drink, “The Arnold Palmer,” named after him, which makes him relevant to all people, including those who aren’t even sports fans.

Aside from his competitor Nicklaus, who has perhaps been the most successful (18 major championship wins) and polarizing figure in golf for decades, and Tiger Woods, whose dominance (14 major championship wins) attracted millions to the game before his eventual self-demise, no one has meant more to golf than Arnold Palmer. (I said professional at the top of this post, so that excludes the legendary U.S. amateur Bobby Jones.)

I will miss seeing highlight video of Arnold Palmer teeing off each year among the honorary starters for The Masters in Augusta, Ga. And I will miss those fleeting moments when he imparted his knowledge of the game in his later years. But we will always have a lengthy reel of legendary performances and memories. And we can always enjoy a nice glass of iced tea and lemonade, and raise our glass to “The King.”

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