Arnold Palmer, famous for golf and a cocktail, succumbs at 87

U.S. golfer Arnold Palmer in action in Westchester Classic at Harrison, N.Y ., Aug. 1978.
Image: AP

Arnold Palmer brought a country-club sport to the masses with a hard-charging style, charisma and a commoner’s touch, At ease with both presidents and the golfing public, and on a first-name basis with both, “The King” succumbed Sunday in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

Alastair Johnson, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, confirmed that Palmer succumbed Sunday afternoon of complications from heart problems. Johnson told Palmer was admitted to the hospital Thursday for some cardiovascular run and weakened over the last few days.

Palmer ranked among the most important figures in golf history, and it went well beyond his seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His good looks, devilish grin and go-for-broke way constructed the elite sport appealing to one and all. And it helped that he arrived about the same day as television moved into most households, a perfect fit that sent golf to unprecedented popularity.

“If it wasn’t for Arnold, golf wouldn’t be as popular as it is now, ” Tiger Woods said in 2004 when Palmer played in his last Masters. “He’s the one who basically brought it to the forefront on Tv. If it wasn’t for him and his excitement, his flair, the route he played, golf likely would not have had these sorts of excitement. And that’s why he’s the king.”

Beyond his golf, Palmer was a pioneer in sports marketing, paving the route for ratings of other athletes to reap in millions from endorsements. Some four decades after his last PGA Tour win, he ranked among the highest-earners in golf.

It was Palmer who devoted golf the modern version of the Grand Slam winning all four professional majors in one year. He came up with the idea after winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960. Palmer was runner-up at the British Open, later calling it one of the biggest letdowns of his career. But his appearance alone invigorated the British Open, which Americans had been ignoring for years.

Palmer never won the PGA Championship, one major short of capturing a career Grand Slam.

He spearheaded the growth of the 50 -and-older Champions Tour, winning 10 hours and depicting some of the biggest crowds.

The combination of iced tea and lemonade is known as an “Arnold Palmer.” Padraig Harrington remembers eating in an Italian restaurant in Miami when he hear a client order one. “Think about it, ” Harrington told. “You don’t go up there and order a ‘Tiger Woods’ at the bar. You can go up there and order an ‘Arnold Palmer’ in this country and the barman he was a young man knew what the drink was. That’s in a league of your own.”

The story of how the drink arrived about was perfectly captured in a 2012 short documentary for ESPN’s 30 for 30 program.

Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event every season for 52 consecutive years, aiming with the 2004 Masters. He spearheaded the growth of the 50 -and-older Champions Tour, winning 10 hours and depicting some of the biggest crowds.

He was equally successful off with golf course design, a wine collect, and apparel that included his famous logo of an umbrella. He bought the Bay Hill Club& Lodge upon building his winter home in Orlando, Florida, and in 2007 the PGA Tour changed the name of the tournament to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Through it all, he touched more people than he could possibly recollect, though he sure tried. When requested information about the fans he attracted at Augusta National, Palmer once told, “Hell, I know most of them by name.”

Only four other players won more PGA Tour events than Palmer Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Woods.

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