Sense of loss and nostalgia at Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf
Arnold Palmer was a great supporter of Legends of Golf events throughout his storied career
April 18, 2017
By Stewart Moore, PGATOUR.COM
- Arnold Palmer hits a shot in 2004 during a Legends of Golf event. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
Merriam-Webster defines the word king as, “One that holds a preeminent position; especially : a chief among competitors.”
On Sept. 25, 2016, golf lost its King.
At the age of 87, Arnold Palmer passed away, leaving a legacy in sport that will never be matched.
Some outside the game will remember Palmer for his 62 PGA TOUR victories, but those who followed his career closely will remember the man who took a legion of loyal fans and created an Army.
In 1955, Palmer notched his first PGA TOUR title at the Canadian Open, posting a 23-under 265 tally for a dominant “Hello World” win over Jack Burke Jr.
The 1950s saw him claim 13 victories, including the 1958 Masters Tournament – his first major championship win. But what defined Palmer’s career inside the ropes was the decade of the 1960s. While the world around him struggled with the era of peace, love and Vietnam, the gentle giant from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, solidified his spot as a King in a golfing world of pawns.
From 1960 through the end of 1969, Arnold Palmer won 53 times on the PGA TOUR for a staggering average of more than five victories per year. The stretch included six major championship titles, of which the most impressive were likely the last two.
Palmer took overnight five-shot leads in the 1962 Open Championship and 1964 Masters Tournament and turned them into runaway six-shot victories, with the latter featuring some kid named Jack Nicklaus as one of two players finishing a distant second.
Just as impressive as the six major championships during the 1960s was the ease with which Palmer always played his way into contention. During the decade, he notched a staggering 25 top-10 finishes in majors – nine of which were runner-up efforts. For comparison, from 2000 through 2009, Tiger Woods also posted 25 top-10s in major championships during a run many consider to be the strongest in golf history.
But long before there was a Tiger, there was a King.
Palmer’s career was credited with making golf both cool and profitable, thanks to good looks, a go-for-broke style of play, and the development of professional management alongside good friend Mark McCormack, who founded International Management Group (IMG) and promptly made the King his first client.
But what made Palmer a legend was his ability to connect with the fans. He felt their passion and he embraced it more than any player in history. Black and white photos of Arnie’s Army following his rapid footsteps up the 72nd fairway of yet another victory permeate in the minds of those who witnessed his unbelievable career.
Throughout his life, fans would line the ropes at PGA TOUR events to get a glimpse of the King, and more often than not, he would glimpse right back.
“I enjoyed the fans thoroughly, and they were always helpful. They were the reason that I tried so hard over the years,” Palmer once famously said of his diehard Army.
In a world where athletes constantly find themselves focused and in some netherworld known as the zone, Palmer never kept walking with his head down. If you waved at the King, he waved back with that famous grin and a thumb in the air to signify that he appreciated the support.
Always make eye contact, and always sign your autograph so that it’s legible. Of all the wisdom Palmer imparted on professional golfers of today and yesteryear, those two keys were probably the best. What good is it to give someone an autograph they can’t read while you bury your head in the ground of your own life?
At this year’s Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge, where the likes of Nicklaus, Player and Trevino will thrill the masses, there will be a sense of nostalgia in the air. Palmer last competed in the event in 2003, but his legacy and legend still enshroud the grounds and the fans who line each fairway, hoping to witness the magic that only golf can deliver.
“Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect,” Palmer once said. “It is at the same time rewarding and maddening - and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.”
It is often said that the game of golf doesn’t owe you anything, yet somehow, the game of golf owes Arnold Palmer everything.