by Jeff Skinner
Today “The King” turns 82 and we all owe Arnold Palmer a big Happy Birthday. Long before Tiger and “The Telestrator” and 460cc drivers and entourages and five hour rounds Arnie was swinging out of his shoes, signing autographs and winning championships. His swashbuckling ways captivated generations of golfers. He’s the reason golf is as successful as it is today. Happy Birthday Arnie.
Below is Arnold’s bio from his World Golf Hall of Fame page.
World Golf Hall of Fame Profile: Arnold Palmer
No figure in the history of golf has injected more excitement into the game over a sustained period than Arnold Palmer. Palmer’s ability to win with boldness and charisma was the single biggest factor in the game’s explosive growth after 1960. For people born in the second half of the 20th century, it was as if Arnold Palmer invented golf.
Hyperbole aside, Palmer brought golf to the masses. The open passion, with which he played, from his whirlybird follow-through on the tee to his fierce animation on the greens, was different from the cool intensity that the great players before him had cultivated. Palmer lashed at the ball with all his might and charged his putts recklessly. With his thick forearms and wasp waist, he was a sweaty, 5-10, 165-pound blue collar dynamo who joyfully made golf an athletic event – the perfect figure to usher in golf’s television era. “Arnold Palmer did not play golf, we thought,” wrote Dan Jenkins. “He nailed up beams, reupholstered sofas, repaired air conditioning units. He was the most immeasurable of all golf champions.”
As telegenic as Palmer was, he was most magnetic as the leader of the throng that called themselves Arnie’s Army. “I tried to look the whole gallery in the eye,” he said. “Some people think of me as just plain lucky, and I can’t argue with them,” he once said. “I would like to say, however, that a man might be walking around lucky and not know it unless he tries.”
Nobody tried like Palmer. He learned to love the game in Latrobe, Pa., where he was born on Sept. 10, 1929. His father, Deacon, was the professional, at the nine-hole Latrobe C.C., and the Palmer’s lived on the golf course. Young Arnold dreamed of playing golf for a living, and after he won the U.S. Amateur in 1954 – the victory that remains his favorite – he began living his dream.
Between 1955 and 1973, Palmer won 62 PGA TOUR events including seven professional major championships — the Masters in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964, the 1960 U.S. Open, and the 1961 and 1962 British Opens. His most magical golf was produced in 1960, a year he won eight official events. At the Masters, he birdied the final two holes to edge Ken Venturi by one. Two months later at the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, he began the final round on Saturday seven strokes and 14 players behind. But he drove the green on the 340-yard first hole, shot 30 on the front nine, and finished with a 65 to win by two. The Palmer “charge” was born, and for the next two years, he seemed unbeatable down the stretch. The next month, when Palmer made a pilgrimage to St. Andrews for the British Open, his presence single handedly elevated the game’s oldest championship from disrepair to its rightful place.
With a muscular swing that produced a piercing draw, Palmer was one of the finest drivers of the ball who ever lived, and from a distinctive pigeon-toed stance, a superb putter. He led the PGA TOUR’s money list four times, and in 1963 became the first player to win more than $100,000 in a season. He played on six Ryder Cups teams, and was the winning captain twice.
Palmer’s defeats were as dramatic as his victories. In 1961, he lost the Masters by one stroke when he double bogeyed the 72nd hole. He lost playoffs in three U.S. Opens, the first to Jack Nicklaus in 1962; the second to Julius Boros in 1963; and the third and most heartbreaking to Billy Casper at The Olympic Club in 1966, where Palmer had led by seven strokes with nine holes to play in regulation. Palmer’s best finish in the PGA Championship was second -three times – which kept him from attaining the career Grand Slam.
But his losses, like everything Palmer did, only served to further endear him to his legions. For more than four decades under the spotlight, Arnold Palmer signed every autograph, shook every hand, and most of all, gave everything to every shot.