Arnold Palmer had “it.” Long after Palmer’s golf game had reached its peak, his galleries were huge, the cheers loud. He could walk into a room filled with a president and heads of state, and all eyes would turn toward him. Call it charisma, or magnetism, or the aura of fame. But Palmer, son of a greenskeeper – he later bought the club where his father had worked – came by the adulation that surrounded him because he never forgot his beginnings, and because he genuinely appreciated the fans. He never turned away an autograph-seeker, never ignored a gallery even on his bad days.
The man is gone. Palmer, 87, died Sunday in a Pittsburgh hospital while awaiting heart surgery. But the legend, ah, the legend will endure. That’s particularly true in North Carolina, where Palmer played golf for Wake Forest University and where he later endowed a scholarship in honor of a college buddy who was killed in a car accident.
He achieved much in the game of professional golf, and he gave much. Palmer’s movie star draw made golf a televised attraction. A fellow professional once reckoned he owed Palmer a quarter out of every dollar he made. Palmer’s seven major championships, won from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s, made him the golfer of his time, but his on-course achievements were surpassed by the young, chubby kid from Ohio, Jack Nicklaus. The rivalry was intense, but ultimately a friendship developed.
For 50 years after his last major championship, Palmer remained golf’s most beloved figure, an astonishing feat he accomplished simply by being himself.