By GABE COHN
Last week, on the evening of Sept. 25, Arnold Palmer, known as “the King” for his transformative legacy in golf, died at the age of 87. He died at UPMC Shadyside hospital in Pittsburgh while awaiting cardiac surgery. On a day where the sports world already lost one of its young and energetic superstars in Jose Fernandez, age 24, it then also lost one of its most respected and oldest superstars.
Sept. 25 was a day where we lost two sports stars from the opposite side of both the age spectrum and the personality spectrum, but, the day will forever be known as a day where we lost two of the most caring and passionate people in all of sports.
When taking a deeper look into the incredible life of Palmer, he can be described as an accessible common man who would become the king and lead his own army. Along the way he became one of golf’s best players and a successful businessman, philanthropist, trailblazing advertising spokesman, talented golf course designer and experienced aviator.
When looking strictly at Palmer’s golf game he will be remembered for his whirlwind of a swing and his incredible achievements. In all, Palmer won 92 golf tournaments, including the Masters four times, the U.S. Open in 1960, and the British Open in 1961 and 1962. Palmer also became the first player in history to make $1 million playing golf.
He and his two great rivals in the “Big Three” — Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus — helped take the sport around the globe in the 1960s, capitalizing on the ever-growing reach of television. Golf grew into made-for-television events and with it came massive sponsorship and prize money.
Palmer also won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour four times, played on six Ryder Cup teams and was captain twice. He received virtually every national award in golf and was the “Athlete of the Decade” for the 1960s in a national Associated Press poll. Palmer, who helped found the Golf Channel decades later, also helped usher in the Champions Tour, where he won 10 times, including five majors. He helped create the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour and was the client that practically launched IMG, which is now one of the biggest sports conglomerates in the world.
Not a lot of us were alive during Palmer’s career, but, when taking a look back, he has done more for his respected sport than almost anyone in sports history. If he was remembered just for his golf career he would be a legend, but what made him a legend among legends was his career off of the course.
Palmer began his honorable career off of the course when he served in the U.S. Coast Guard before he began his professional golf career. Then about six years into his career he founded the Arnie’s Army Foundation which provides financial support to institutions and organizations that help children, youth, families, the environment and communities. Over the course of the next 60-plus years, Palmer became one of the greatest philanthropists in sports and helped thousands of people in that span. Palmer, because of his care for other people and his philanthropy efforts, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012.
After hearing about Palmer’s death, members of UT men’s and women’s golf teams gave their thoughts regarding his passing:
“I think that Arnold Palmer had an influence on every golfer’s game that played after his prime,” senior golfer Daniel Syring said. “He brought the ‘coolness’ factor to golf that was lacking before hand. He helped modernize golf apparel and made golfers seem more like athletes, which is what I liked most about him.”
UT Women’s coach Missey Jones explained why Palmer was more than just a golfer.
“Palmer’s attributes on the course were self-explanatory but his humanitarian qualities and his genuine love for people surpassed any golf achievements he may have acquired,” Jones said. “He believed in the spirit of perseverance and the ability of every person to achieve their higher self. He left everyone thinking better of themselves and knowing they were capable of achieving greatness; That I believe is what he left us, and what his legacy will be.”
UT Men’s coach explained why Palmer was an inspiration while growing up.
“Even though we were broke when I was growing up Palmer showed me that anyone can make it,” men’s golf coach Rick Christie said. “He taught me that effort, class, ambition, and work ethic go a long way when trying to achieve greatness.”
Arnold Palmer changed the sports world forever and it will be tough to find another athlete who cares for other people as much as he did. He is one of the most charismatic and liked athletes in the history of sports and he will be missed by all.
Gabe Cohn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org