Arnold Daniel Palmer (born September 10, 1929) is an American professional golfer, who is generally regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of men's professional golf. He has won numerous events on both the PGA Tour and Champions Tour, dating back to 1955. Nicknamed "The King," he is one of golf's most popular stars and its most important trailblazer, because he was the first superstar of the sport's television age, which began in the 1950’s. He is part of "The Big Three" in golf, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who are widely credited with popularising and commercialising the sport around the world.
Palmer won the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and in 1974 was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Palmer was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He learned golf from his father, Deacon Palmer, who was head professional and greenskeeper at Latrobe Country Club, allowing young Arnold to accompany his father as he maintained the course. He attended Wake Forest University, on a golf scholarship. He left upon the death of close friend Bud Worsham and enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, where he served for three years and had some time to continue to hone his golf skills. Palmer returned to college and competitive golf. His win in the 1954 U.S. Amateur made him decide to try the pro tour for a while, and he and new bride Winifred Walzer (whom he had met at a Pennsylvania tournament) travelled the circuit for 1955.
Palmer won the 1955 Canadian Open in his rookie season, and raised his game status for the next several seasons. Palmer's charisma was a major factor in establishing golf as a compelling television event in the 1950’s and 1960’s, setting the stage for the popularity it enjoys today. His first major championship win at the 1958 Masters Tournament cemented his position as one of the leading stars in golf, and by 1960 he had signed up as pioneering sports agent Mark McCormack's first client. In later interviews, McCormack listed five attributes that made Palmer especially marketable: his good looks; his relatively modest background (his father was a greenskeeper before rising to be club professional and Latrobe was a humble club); the way he played golf, taking risks and wearing his emotions on his sleeve; his involvement in a string of exciting finishes in early televised tournaments; and his affability.
Palmer is also credited by many for securing the status of The Open Championship (British Open) among U.S. players. After Ben Hogan won that championship in 1953, few American professionals had travelled to play in The Open, due to its travel requirements, relatively small prize purses, and the style of its links courses (radically different from most American courses). Palmer was convinced by his business partner Mark McCormack that success in the Open -– to emulate the feats of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead and Hogan before him –- would truly make him a global sporting star, not simply a leading American golfer. In particular, Palmer travelled to Scotland in 1960, having already won both the Masters and U.S. Open, to try to emulate Hogan's feat of 1953, of winning all three in a single year. He failed, losing out to Kel Nagle by a single shot, but his subsequent Open wins in the early 1960s convinced many American pros that a trip to Britain would be worth the effort, and certainly secured Palmer's popularity among British and European fans, not just American ones.
Palmer won seven major championships:
- The Masters: 1958, 1960, 1962, 1964
- U.S. Open: 1960
- The Open Championship: 1961, 1962
Palmer's most prolific years were 1960–1963, when he won 29 PGA Tour events, including five major tournament victories, in four seasons. In 1960, he won the Hickok Belt as the top professional athlete of the year and Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award. He built up a wide fan base, often referred to as "Arnie's Army", and in 1967 he became the first man to reach one million dollars in career earnings on the PGA Tour. By the late 1960’s Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player had both acquired clear ascendancy in their rivalry, but Palmer won a PGA Tour event every year from 1955 to 1971 inclusive, and in 1971 he enjoyed a revival, winning four events.
Palmer won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average four times: 1961, 1962, 1964, and 1967. He played on six Ryder Cup teams: 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971, and 1973. He was the last playing captain in 1963, and captained the team again in 1975.
Palmer was eligible for the Senior PGA Tour (now the Champions Tour) from its first season in 1980, and he was one of the marquee names who helped it to become successful. He won ten events on the tour, including five senior majors.
Palmer won the first World Match Play Championship in England, an event which was originally organized by McCormack to showcase his stable of players. Their partnership was one of the most significant in the history of sports marketing. Long after he ceased to win tournaments, Palmer remained one of the highest earners in golf due to his appeal to sponsors and the public.
Palmer gives President Bush golf tips before being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
In 2004, he competed in The Masters for the last time, marking his 50th consecutive appearance in that event. After missing the cut at the 2005 U.S. Senior Open by 21 shots, he announced that he would not enter any more senior majors. Since 2007, Palmer has served as the honorary starter for the Masters. He retired from tournament golf on October 13, 2006, when he withdrew from the Champions Tours' Administaff Small Business Classic after four holes due to dissatisfaction with his own play. He played the remaining holes but did not keep score. Palmer's legacy was reaffirmed by an electrifying moment during the 2004 Bay Hill Invitational. Standing over 200 yards from the water-guarded 18th green, Palmer, who is known for his aggressive play, lashed his second shot onto the green with a driver. The shot thrilled his loyal gallery and energized the excitable Palmer. He turned to his grandson and caddie, Sam Saunders, and gave him a prolonged shimmy and playful jeering in celebration of the moment.