The Golfing Greats - Arnold Palmer


Arnold Palmer, General of Arnie's Army, was speaking of golf, but he could have been describing his own life when he said, "Success in golf depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character." His sense of fairness, kindness toward everyone, and dry sense of humor have made him one of the most popular golfers to ever play the game. And he was pretty darned good at the game, too!

As a world-famous golfer, Arnold Palmer won a majority of his 92 championships on the U. S. PGA tour. The only "major" he never won was the PGA Championship, although he finished second in three of them. Probably most noted for being the first pro to win four Masters Tournaments, it's not surprising to find that he started playing golf at the ripe old age of four. He worked hard at developing his golf game throughout most of his life, and it shows with some of the prestigious awards he's won including: the 1960 Hickok Professional Athlete of the Year, the 1960 Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, and even Athlete of the Decade for the 1960s in a national Associated Press poll. The awards culminated in 2004 when President Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a ceremony at the White House.

His professional career began in 1954, just a few months after he won the U. S. Amateur Championship. The leading money winner in three of the four years spanning his biggest period from 1960 to 1963, Palmer twice represented the U. S. in the international Ryder Cup Match.

But Palmer never let all that prestige and status go to his head. He unfailingly maintained a dry and subtle sense of humor. After succumbing to bad luck on the 18th hole at the Rancho Park L. A. Open in 1961, a newsman asked how he had managed to make 12 on the par 5 hole. His reply: "I missed my putt for an 11."

Rancho Park became his home golf course for many years. The 20th Century Fox Studios were right across the street, and many times you'd find Hollywood stars mixing with the regular golfing crowd. It's said that after Palmer once played a round with Frank Sinatra - the famed singer rumored to have been involved with the Italian Mafia - Sinatra asked him, "How do you like my game?" Palmer responded with a straight face, "I prefer golf."

Palmer even got along with members of the media, laughing at the statement made by one television commentator who noted during a live broadcast that Palmer "seems to be having trouble with his long putt. However he has no trouble dropping his shorts." That same kindness, understanding and sense of fairness have carried through his life and led to the unofficial creation of Arnie's Army, a dedicated group of fans that has numbered in the thousands.

The honor and unceasing dedication those fans offer Palmer is well-warranted. His philanthropic efforts, while never highly publicized, have earned him recognition with those who count - the people who know him. For two decades, Palmer served as honorary national chairman of the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation and has played major roles in fund-raising drives for hospitals in both Orlando, Florida, and Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the town in which he was born.

Now in semi-permanent retirement, Palmer splits his time between Latrobe and La Quinta, California. He has numerous business interests around the world and still keeps his hand in his first passion, golf, serving as a consultant to The Golf Channel, designing golf courses around the country, and owning several golf courses, including being part owner of the renowned Pebble Beach course in California.

Famed golf pro, down-to-earth father and family man, quiet philanthropist - all can be used to describe Arnold Palmer. His life in golf has mirrored his life in general. Speaking of golf, he once noted, "I've always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me. I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn't have a chance to win." It seems, however, that it has been those who know him that have been the real winners in this game.

Copyright 2005 Donald Saunders


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