Golf is, stereotypically, a quiet game. We're told it's best played by gentlemen who put great care and thought into strategizing their way through the course. It's supposedly for the privileged, for the careful and for the boring. Arnold Palmer was none of those things, which is perhaps why he's the most beloved golfer of all-time. He died today at the age of 87, and he will be mourned like no golfer before or after.
Arnold Palmer was born in 1929 to a greenskeeper who worked at a run of the mill golf course in a working class town called Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He grew up learning the sport alongside his father, but he never thought seriously of turning it into a career. So, he painted houses and joined the Coast Guard, until a surprise US Amateur win in 1954 convinced him to give professional golf a real chance. Within four years, he was a Major Champion and the most popular player on the face of the Earth.
It wasn't because he was better than everyone else, though he was certainly the best player from the late '50s to the early '60s. Instead, his popularity came from how similar his outlook and strategizing was to everyday golfers. He didn't ever take the safe play. He didn't lay up in front of the water. He didn't chip out from the woods. He went for broke all the time, achieving both euphoric highs and crushing lows. He cut corners, went for Par 4s in one shot and electrified crowds everywhere he went. In short, he was one of us. He was an all-world talent with the soul of a Sunday hacker.
He was married to his first wife Winifred for forty-five years until her death in 1999. He famously popularized mixing Iced Tea and Lemonade, a drink that now colloquially is called the Arnold Palmer. He also won 62 professional events, took home the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is widely credited for turning golf into a viable sport that played with the middle class. He was the coolest, and by all accounts, a hell of a nice guy.
As Palmer got older, his hands grew a little too shaky to putt with any consistency. By the mid 1970s, he was no longer a real threat to win golf tournaments, but that never stopped the crowds from following him around and cheering. He continued competing in Major Championships until the 1990s and hitting ceremonial first tee shots until just last year. His presence and popularity will never fully be replaced.
Our thoughts go out to his family, and everyone who loved Arnold Palmer.