Arnold Palmer: the people’s champ with an unmistakable aura of greatness

Arnold Palmer, who died on Sunday at the age of 87, virtually single-handedly hauled golf into the mainstream. Tributes have poured in for The King but chiefly the message is of thanks

Eighteen months ago in the clubhouse at Bay Hill, venue for the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the adopted wintertime home of this golfing icon, Rory McIlroy was approached. Rory, if you need anything this week, you just let me know.

McIlroys reply was as swift “as its” pertinent. Mr Palmer, I will never want for anything at all in life. Thats all because of you.

While sadness, deep sadness, understandably surrounded the confirmation that Palmer died on Sunday afternoon at the age of 87, there was something poetic about McIlroys comment. On Sunday the Northern Irishman had just completed media duties on account of claiming $11.5 m on the outskirts of Atlanta when he was apprised of Palmers death. McIlroy, like the rest of us, knew this was coming but was still deep moved. A sporting innovator is no more.

Every player at the top level of golf recognises Palmers role in their riches. Almost single-handedly, Palmer carried golf into fresh commercial province both with the late 1950 s recognition of what television entail and a swashbuckling, risk-taking style which appealed to the masses. So, too, did a low-key background far removed from the snotty-nosed entitlement which has so undermined golf. Palmer, The King, was the peoples champ. He transcended golf, just as he did generations.

Palmer was the first player to earn$ 1m through on-course quests. By 2008, he commanded $30 m via off-course projects. Palmer had a drink named after him, an unmistakable logo and was golfs maiden brand; a brand which did not just survive decades and playing retirement, it actually grew. For fun, the seven-times major win was a pilot. His last flight was in 2011, aged 81, from California to Orlando.

In this, a Ryder Cup week, it is worth reflecting upon the emotion and inspiration which surrounded the European team in 2012 in accordance with the death of Seve Ballesteros. That had been four months before matters got under way at Medinah, which offers some perspective as to what will resonate in the hearts and intellects of the United States players from Friday.

Arnold foliages an impact on the game and on athletics in America that is unmatched, said Davis Love III, the United States captain. As we approach the Ryder Cup this week, our squad will maintain Mr Palmers household in our prayers and will draw from his strength and determination to inspire us.

Palmer played six Ryder Cups, all marked by victory, and captained his nation to comfortable glory in 1975. This was merely reflective of individual brilliance. Palmers professional wins totalled 95. Between 1958 and 1964, 25 major starts insured 16 top fives, five runners-up places and those seven triumphs.

You inspired millions, you changed the game, said Jordan Spieth. Tiger Woods offered similar sentiment. Thanks Arnold for your friendship, advise and a lot of giggles, said the 14 -times major win. Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend.

Everyone involved in golf, from spectator to top-level musician, has their own Palmer story. My own involves sitting inside his cluttered office at Bay Hill last March, conducting an interview as the legends beloved labrador, Mulligan, lay at my feet. Palmers health was clearly failing but his handshake remained firm.

More notable was that unmistakable aura of greatness, the kind not common even among standard sporting royalty. One poorly-delivered topic and I knew Palmer would destroy me in the manner golfers had once been accustomed to. Palmers trusted, lifetime lieutenant Doc Giffin is president of our every word.

Palmer bemoaned the over-tuition of golfers of this epoch( his father had been his only coach ), bristled slightly at major-winning comparisons on the basis he could not compete in the US PGA Championship as soon as he turned professional and shook his head when assessing how far modern technology allows the ball to travel. He spoke enthusiastically about a golf course project in the Highlands of Scotland, which will continue apace, thereby illustrating Palmers business savvy even at a phase where, privately, he most likely knew the odds against insuring it through.

This year at Augusta National, in realisation of failing health, spectators realised they were saying farewell to Palmer as he posed on the 1st teealongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player on the opening day of the Masters. But the truth, the admission of that, was understandably too painful for anybody to say publicly. Palmer donned the Green Jacket four times; between 1957 and 1964 he finished no lower than ninth at the first major of the year.

The final words here should belong to Nicklaus, who may be golfs most decorated major win but did not have anything even approaching the commercial savvy which defined Palmer apart. He was one of my best friends, closest friends, and he was for a long, long time. I will miss him greatly, Nicklaus said. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself.

Tributes poured in on Sunday evening but, chiefly, the message was of thanks. That is the true Arnold Palmer legacy.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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