Golfing Great Never Lost His ‘Everyman’ Roots

Men loved him. Women loved him. He had charisma, charm, a gift on the greens and a common man’s touch. Arnold Palmer, born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh, will forever be remembered as a superstar in the golf world — but also as a blue-collar guy who turned what was largely a country club sport into something accessible and enjoyable to millions.

Palmer, who died at age 87 on Sunday evening in Pittsburgh of heart problems, was known for his prowess on the greens but also his regular guy’s touch and great charisma.

“He had that magnetism that burst through the screen.”

Thanks in some measure to his own contributions, he played the game as golf was becoming televised — and he brought fun and a ferocious attitude to his approach.

Palmer was movie-star handsome and charming. He’d hitch up his pants. His shirttail would be untucked. With a sunny smile and a cigarette between his lips, he would part the waters of his followers as they trekked behind him down the fairway.

He was “like Sir Lancelot amid the multitude in Camelot,” Ira Berkow once wrote in The New York Times.

“He had that magnetism that burst through the screen,” said NBC sports guru Bob Costas Monday morning on “The Today Show,” adding, “Arnie was a man of the people.”

Related: Arnold Palmer Dead at 87

He made an elite game understandable and approachable to the masses. “It’s the impact he had,” said Costas. “The nickname was true. He was ‘The King.'”

Palmer was the PGA Tour’s leading money winner in 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1963 and its player of the year in 1960 and 1962. He holds the title of being the first golfer — in 1968 — to earn more than $1 million in career prize money on the PGA Tour.

“I was shocked to hear that we lost a great friend — and that golf lost a great friend,” another golf legend — Jack Nicklaus — said in a statement. “Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself.”

Along with all of his accomplishments on the course — Palmer won the Masters in 1958, 1960, 1962, and 1964 — Palmer had plenty off the course.

Have you ever had an Arnold Palmer? He popularized the drink — a mix of iced tea and lemonade sold now in cans bearing his name.

As the president of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, he supervised the design and development of more than 300 new or remodeled golf courses worldwide, as well as golf clubs and clothing.

He was also a pilot and set a record for circumnavigating the globe in 1976.

"Flying has been one of the great things in my life," he said. "It's taken me to the far corners of the world. I met thousands of people I otherwise wouldn't have met. And I even got to play a little golf along the way."

"Along the way" — he also never allowed himself to be isolated from the people. "He's not as good as the press he's received. He's better," Richard F. Connolly, who became Palmer's financial adviser in the late 1970s, told The Boston Globe a few years ago. "He does things all the time that people aren't aware of, raises millions and millions for charity, and it's never 'no.' And when you're with him, you always get his full attention. The men loved him, and the women loved him. It was a gift that he had."

He took enormous pride in writing legible autographs for people and also wrote many handwritten notes of thanks or congratulations over the decades, as The Globe noted. Shocked tournament winners often received these notes in the mail and promptly framed them. In recent years, "those became typed letters, still ending with that unmistakable signature" that he made sure was clear and easily discerned for all.

Last Modified: September 26, 2016, 11:40 am

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