Arnold Palmer: One of golf’s greatest icons

Washington: With a magnetic personality and bold style of play which combined to make him one of the golf’s greatest players, Arnold Palmer in his demise leaves the sport with a void that will be hard to fill.

Palmer, the sport’s most revered figure, died late on Sunday from complications due to a heart condition. He was 87.

The winner of 62 career PGA Tour titles, including seven major championships, Palmer rose from modest roots in the US state of Pennsylvania to become a towering figure with appeal that transformed and transcended the sport of golf.

“We have lost a great friend and giant in our sport tonight with the passing of Arnold Palmer,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem was quoted as saying on its official website.

“There is no way to adequately express the immense sense of loss that we all feel with this news. He obviously meant so much not only to the PGA Tour, but to the entirety of golf by lifting it to newfound visibility and popularity. It is not an exaggeration to say there would be no modern day PGA Tour without Arnold Palmer.”

“There would be no PGA Tour champions without Arnold Palmer. There would be no golf channel without Arnold Palmer. No one has had a greater impact on those who play our great sport or who are touched by it,” he added.

“More than his words, Arnold’s actions spoke to his unequivocal love of golf and belief that no individual can be or should be bigger than the game. Arnold totally gave of himself to support golf and its growth. He has served as a role model for generations of PGA Tour members in ways large and small. The game, and all of us involved with it are so much richer for having had the fortune to have Arnold willingly serve as its global champion and ambassador.”

Palmer was the superstar of world golf in the 1960s, much before the word ‘superstar’ entered the sports lexicon. He flew his own airplane, drew galleries of fans larger than those of any other golf superstar who came before of after him, and served as a role model for all golfers.

Palmer turned professional in 1954 and his first PGA Tour victory came at the Canadian Open in 1955. The rise of his golf career coincided with the rise of television viewership in the United States.

Just as he began to collect dramatic victories, America’s fascination with television was exploding. Television sets, which numbered only 3.8 million in 1950, were in almost 46 million US homes by 1960. Palmer’s go-for-broke style made him the ideal leading man for the new medium.

He became a hit with Hollywood’s biggest stars and show business icons, like John Wayne, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.

He played golf with six US Presidents — Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. He was the only golfer to receive both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Palmer reigned over golf as the game’s top player in the 1960s and 1970s. Until recently, he regularly oversaw the operations of his far-flung business empire and many charitable interests and hosted the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament.

Born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Palmer was the oldest of the four children of Milford Deacon Palmer and his wife Doris.

By the time he turned 17, Palmer had twice won the Pennsylvania high school championship as well as the first of five Western Penn Amateur Championships. An average student at Latrobe High School, Palmer landed a golf scholarship to Wake Forest University in 1947 with help from Buddy Worsham, an acquaintance from the Pennsylvania amateur circuit.

He never looked back from there and soon exploded on the professional circuit as a talented young prodigy.

He arrived at Augusta National in 1960 as the favorite in what would be a seminal year for golf — when the ever-expanding power of television intersected with drawing power of Palmer. The rest, as they say, is history.