Reuters: Arnold Palmer, one of golf’s greatest players whose immense popularity drew a legion of fans known as “Arnie’s Army” and helped propel the game just as television was coming of age, died on Sunday at age 87, the US Golf Association and golf media reported.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Arnold Palmer, golf’s greatest ambassador, at age 87,” the USGA said on Twitter.
Palmer, who posted 62 victories on the PGA Tour starting in 1955, died in Pittsburgh, near his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, golf media reported.
A winner of seven major championships, including four Masters, Palmer had no peers as a fan favourite and always went to great lengths to ensure that every person waiting in line ended up with a cherished autograph, an approach that even today’s generation of players tries to live up to.
Palmer developed his following at tournaments and on television with an affable demeanour, telegenic looks and modest background as the son of a greenskeeper. At his death, he ranks fifth on the PGA’s list of tournament victories.
“Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs,” Tiger Woods, ranked No. 2 on that list, tweeted late on Sunday.
“Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend. It’s hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King.”
Four-time Masters champion Arnold Palmer pauses and bows to the gallery as he walks to the 18th green during his final competitive appearance in the Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, U.S. on April 9, 2004. Palmer has competed in the tournament 50 times. REUTERS
Palmer’s biggest win may have come in 1960, when he won the US Open after being down seven shots in the final round in the greatest comeback in that tournament’s history. He beat Jack Nicklaus, a then 20-year-old amateur, by two shots, prefacing a rivalry between the two that lasted throughout the 1960s.
Palmer was especially dominant from 1960 to 1963, winning 29 PGA Tour events. He was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” in 1960.
Palmer had an unorthodox swing and go-for-broke style that added to his appeal among fans, who became known as “Arnie’s Army” for the size of his following.
“I enjoy the crowds, and I enjoyed playing to them. I suppose that was one thing that helped me as much as anything,” Palmer told Golf.com in 2011.
Palmer’s success on the course and at attracting fans helped boost television ratings for golf, making it a staple of weekend TV sports.
In 1967, he became the first golfer to reach $1 million in career earnings. His last PGA Tour win came in 1973.
He joined the Senior PGA Tour for players 50 and older in its inaugural season in 1980 and won 10 tournaments on that tour, including five majors, before retiring from tournament golf in 2006.
A successful businessman, Palmer owned a golf course design firm and a golf resort in Orlando, Florida, and was considered a pioneer in sports marketing.
He was an avid pilot who continued to fly until he was 81. He has a regional airport named after him in Pennsylvania.
Palmer was also a noted philanthropist, founding the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando and a number of other charities.
President George W. Bush awarded Palmer the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honour, in 2004.