Arnold Palmer

Introduction

One of the finest and most successful golfers of all time, the American Arnold Palmer was the quintessential modern player, laying down the standard which others would follow.

With no fewer than 94 professional titles to his name, including 7 major championships, ‘The King’ truly earned his nickname and, in the process, left his mark on the sport in a way perhaps no other has matched.

Career overview

Early years

Arnold Palmer was born in 1929 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and owed his early start in golf to his father Deacon, who fortunately was the head professional as well as the green keeper at the local country club.

Becoming a regular on the course himself, the young Palmer displayed his prodigious talent at a suitably exceptional age, managing to card a score below 70 on the course at just 7 years old.

It was therefore no surprise that, many years later, Palmer attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina on a golf scholarship, although he soon dropped out after the death of a close friend.

His next move was to join the Coast Guard, but one constant during this decidedly uncertain time was golf. His development remained startling and, in 1954, he triumphed at the US Amateur Championship, encouraging him to enter the pro circuit.

The transition was immediately successful, as Palmer picked up the Canadian Open in 1955. However, his effect was more dramatic than mere tournament victories as, over the course of the next few seasons, he raised golf’s profile as a national sport on television with his good looks, media savvy and modest background.

Palmer’s first major championship victory came in 1958, as he stormed to victory in the Masters but it would be the following decade that really established Palmer as ‘The King’.

Dominance in the early 1960s

Although he failed to retain his Masters title in 1959, the following season he got back to winning ways, taking the championship once again. This came alongside his first (and only) victory in the US Open.

One year later, Palmer’s long trip across the Atlantic to take part in the Open Championship was rewarded, setting the now established trend of Americans braving the journey time to take on the world’s best. Palmer would retain his title in 1962 as well, a remarkable feat in its own right and one which captured the American public’s imagination, reflected in the growing ‘Arnie’s Army’ of fans.

Indeed, the first three years of the 1960s were exceptionally fruitful ones for Palmer, as he acquired a staggering 29 PGA Tour titles, won the Vardon Trophy (rewarding the player with the lowest overall average score) in 1961 and 1962, and represented America in the Ryder Cup successfully in 1961 and 1963.

The 1960s as a whole proved to be the zenith of Palmer’s career as he won a PGA event every single year. Unfortunately, by the mid-1960s, the rather marketable and rather phenomenal Jack Nicklaus had emerged and took on Palmer’s mantle in the golf world.

Decades in the background

Nevertheless, Palmer remained a highly popular and constantly visible member of the golf circuit during the subsequent decades. He occasionally gave reminders of his boundless ability, most notably in the 1972 US Open, when he finished 3rd. By 1980 though, Palmer had largely moved to the Senior PGA Tour, where he unsurprisingly racked up a number of wins, including the US Senior Open in 1980 and the PGA Seniors’ Championship in 1983.

During this period, Palmer continued to make appearances (by popular demand) at the major championships on the professional tour. In 2004, he made his 50th consecutive appearance at the Masters championship before finally retiring.

He later made his departure from all types of tournament golf on October 13th 2006, citing his frustration with his own performances as the reason. In tribute to his remarkable influence on the game, Golf Digest ranked him as the sixth greatest player of all time, adding to his PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 and his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame decades earlier in 1974.

Personal life

Palmer is heavily involved in the health industry, having set up The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida in 1989 and contributing the Arnold Palmer Pavilion at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre.

His philanthropy was made easier by becoming the first golfing millionaire in earnings. This fortune has been developed over the years via a number of golfing business ventures, including Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge (which hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational) and Palmer Course Design, after his involvement in the first golf course in China. Never one to forget his past though, Palmer now owns the Latrobe Country Club.

Such is the diversity of his influence that, to this day in America, the combination of iced tea and lemonade is known as an ‘Arnold Palmer’ (having been cited as one of his favourite drinks). Similarly, the Saturday sandwich (peanut butter and jelly with one side refrigerated and one side toasted) also refers to Palmer’s particular preference.

Honours and records

Major championships

  • US Open – Winner (1960)
  • The Masters – Winner (1958, 1960, 1962, 1964)
  • The Open – Winner (1961, 1962)
  • PGA Championship – Runner-up (1964, 1968, 1970)

Other honours

  • PGA Tour Victories – 62
  • Senior PGA Tour Victories – 10
  • Vardon Trophy – 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967
  • PGA Player of the Year – 1960, 1962
  • PGA Tour Money Winner – 1958, 1960, 1962, 1963