Arnold Palmer 1929-2016September 25, 2016

Raising a Glass in Arnie’s Memory

What he meant to all of us

In 2007, Arnold Palmer’s longtime aide, Doc Giffin, told Golf Digest that The King had signed an average of 100 autographs a day for every day of his life. Give or take, that was 2.8 million at the time, a total that surpassed three million at the time of Palmer’s death on September 25, 2016. “People ask me, ‘Why is Arnold Palmer so popular?’ Giffin told us. “The answer is simple: He likes people, and they know it. His public face and his private face are exactly the same. He’s not one of those guys who turns it on in public and turns it off in private.”

“The women want to be close to him, and men want to be him,” Geoff Ogilvy told Golf World in 2009. “You don’t know how he does it, but he can be in a crowded room, and everyone in that room could leave thinking Arnold connected with them at least once.”

Below we give a hint of Arnie’s impact on golf and the people who have loved the game—and him.

—Mike O’Malley

Herb Graffis
Golf Digest, February 1981

He’s the boy next door. The kid you asked to run an errand to the corner store. When he won the U.S. Amateur in 1954, it was a bit of an embarrassment to the USGA. At that time, declaring an intention to turn professional was a violation of the rules of amateur status. Before he won the amateur, Palmer had been telling everybody he was going to turn pro. He wanted to be a pro so much, he’d already signed up with Wilson when he was still an amateur. But Arnold was such a nice kid that everybody just looked the other way.

Tommy Bolt
Golf Digest, June 1993

We traveled together for a while when he was a young player. He had two pairs of pants at that time, one in the dry cleaners and the pair he had on. You know Arnold’s habit of hitching his pants up all the time? He got that because those pants didn’t fit.

Fred Couples
Golf World, Sept. 14, 2009

There isn’t a time when I see him that I don’t give him a kiss on the cheek. That’s how I feel about him, and I know that a lot of other guys sort of feel the same way, that you love him like he’s your father or grandfather. I love all the old guys . . . Jack, Ray Floyd, [Lee] Trevino. But would any of them say that Arnold wasn’t the most special of them all? I don’t think so.

Peter Dobereiner
Golf Digest, February 1985

Nobody has a bad word to say about Palmer, although he once had an extremely bad word to say about me. It has been said before and deserves saying again that every tournament pro should go down on his knees and give thanks for Arnold Palmer. So should golf writers and everyone else who lives by golf, although there was one fleeting moment when my allegiance faltered. It was at Turnberry in Scotland during the John Player Classic when a hurricane with winds of more than 66 miles an hour hit the course. The tented village was lacerated. Cashmere pullovers from an exhibition were flying through the air, and the press tent foundered with all hands. Chi Chi Rodriguez was blown off his feet and presumably carried on the wind to Prestwick airport, because he was never seen again. Horizontal rain struck like buckshot, and the hailstones carpeted the course. At this point the tournament committee halted play. Only three groups, one of which included Palmer, remained on the course, and they were ordered to mark their balls and complete the round in the morning.

That evening there was a banquet, and I was seated next to Gary Player and opposite Palmer—an extremely angry Palmer. He mumbled like a thundercloud that the round should have been washed out. Player, who had returned a miraculous 71, disagreed. Honesty compelled me to reveal that I was a member of the committee that had taken the disputed decision. Lightning flashed from the thundercloud.

“In that case,” growled Palmer—and here there was one of those freak lulls in the hubbub of conversation, so his words echoed through the hall—you are a bleep!” There are bleeps and bleeps, and this was the ultimate bleep, usually described as being of Anglo-Saxon origin but actually deriving its roots from Latin. I appealed to Player for support. “Arnold is quite right,” said Gary, who was enjoying my embarrassment, “but on this occasion your decision was the correct one.”

That is Palmer—forthright, down to earth and a terrible judge of character. It is typical of the man that two minutes later he was his usual affable self, his anger released and forgotten, and we were into deep speculation about the display of highland dancing and whether anything was worn under the kilt. A frenzied eightsome reel revealed the answer, to a delighted guffaw from Palmer.

Dan Jenkins
Golf Digest, June 2001

I don’t suppose anybody’s ever enjoyed being who they are more than Arnold’s enjoyed being Arnold Palmer.

Al Birmingham
Golf Digest, December 1967 (Birmingham played under player/coach Arnold Palmer at Wake Forest in 1954)

Arnold really wanted an invitation to the Masters. One night a friend called and said he had heard on the radio that Palmer had been invited. Arnie did handstands, he was so happy. Then he learned that the Palmer was Johnny—not Arnold.

Tom Watson
Golf World, Sept. 14, 2009

Frank Beard said that we owe 80 cents of every dollar we earn to Arnold. That’s true.

Pat Ward-Thomas
From his book, Not Only Golf, 1981:

A genuine liking of people and anxiety not to offend made him vulnerable to all kinds of pressures, but I never saw his patience fail. My wife and I were dining with the Palmers one evening in Scotland when a man, spotting Arnold, weaved across the room after a training session at the bar and more or less demanded an audience. Palmer, courteous as ever to strangers, greeted him. The man asked for an autograph, which was given, and then asked for several more. Not satisfied with having interrupted our dinner, he launched forth his views on the coming championship, saying that if X—naming a player who had no chance—did not win, he hoped that Palmer would. Most famous games-players have suffered this sort of tactlessness, but none more so than Palmer.

Evel Knievel
Golf Digest, August 2005

I was playing 21 at the Aladdin in Las Vegas, betting $10,000 a hand. Arnold Palmer and Winnie are standing right behind me, watching. And I’m losing. The dealer is pulling 20 every time, and although I’m pulling my share of 20s, too, I can’t win a hand, and I’m losing a lot of money. And I’m getting really angry. The next hand he deals me a 20, and he’s got a face card showing. I’m certain he has 20, and I just can’t bear tying again. So I ask for a hit. The dealer freaks out, shuts the table down and screams for Ash Resnick, who runs the casino. Ash comes along and is told I want to hit 20. He looks at me for a long time and then says, “Give the kid a hit.” The dealer gives me an ace, and when I turn around, Arnold’s eyes are this big, and Winnie looks like she’s going to be sick.

“I know what pressure is,” Arnold said, “but you’re too much.”

Arnold gave me a great lesson once. We were at Bay Hill, and I suggested that we play for some cash. He put his arm around me and said, “Evel, I’ve got a lot of money, and I don’t need any of yours. On the other hand, I don’t want you to have any of mine.”

Bev Norwood
Longtime IMG executive, Golf Digest, September 1999

When Arnold played the British Open at Royal Troon [1989], a photographer came out on a practice day wanting a picture of Arnold at the plaque marking the spot on the 16th hole where he had hit the famous shot out of the rough onto the green that won him the British Open in 1961. Arnold and the photographer go off down the fairway from the first tee looking for this plaque in the rough. After searching for about 10 minutes, Arnold turns to his caddie, Tip Anderson, and said, “Tip, where is that plaque?” And Tip, who had been watching this whole scene in very much bemusement for the past 10 minutes, said, “About 200 miles south of here, Mr. Palmer—it was at Royal Birkdale, not Royal Troon.”

Roger Maltbie
Golf Digest, September 1999

The first professional golf tournament I ever saw was the old Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. I was 11 years old, and my parents took me to see the event. From the street above Pebble Beach, there’s a curved walkway down to the first tee. It was a gray morning that’s so common there at Pebble Beach. I was an Arnold Palmer fan. As we came down that walkway, Arnold was standing on the first tee, and, like a spotlight, there was a beam of light on Arnold. Everybody else was in the gray. It was as though it was a stage set.

Off we went to follow Arnold. This was ’63 or ’64, and Arnold was the biggest star in the game. Huge gallery. I get separated from my parents. I’m nervous. I’m lost. There are a lot of people. Now what do I do? So, I’m behind the second tee, waiting for Arnold to tee off. He had looked at me a couple of times, and I guess he could tell I was very nervous. After he teed off, he came over to me and said, “Are you OK, son?” I said, “I’m lost. I can’t find my mom and dad.” He said, “Then you come with me. They’ll find you with me.” So he took me by the hand and led me down the fairway. We got about 50 yards down the fairway and my mom screamed, “Roger!” Arnold led me over to my parents and that was that. Then I got my butt blistered.

Jack Newton
Golf Digest, June 2008

I remember sitting in a clubhouse when Nicklaus and Palmer had a bit of a blue [argument]. I played early with Arnold. We came into the locker room, and a storm started to brew. Anyway, the storm got worse, and the players were called in. Jack was something like eight over par playing the ninth hole. Arnold said, “You know what’s going to happen here, don’t you? They’re going to cancel the round because Jack is eight over.” And just as he said it, Jack walked in behind him and heard him say it.

Jim Thorpe, when I first met him, said to me that we “Frenchmen” had to stick together out there. He and I were on the bench as Jack walked in. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but when Jack gets nervous or angry, he has a little twitch he does with his chin, and he goes bright red. Well, he did both. And as he walked past, he said, “Yeah, Arnold, just like they did for you all those times.”

At that, Jim Thorpe turned to me and said, “Newtie, this is no place for we Frenchmen. There’s an argument going on between God and Jesus Christ, so we better get out of here!”

Peter Deeks
Golf Digest, September 2009

I graduated from college in spring 1967, and on Christmas Eve that year four friends came to my parents’ house, where I was still living, to drink some beer and catch up. We got to talking about who we had wished Merry Christmas, and someone asked if I had done so to Arnold, who was (and still is) my idol. I said, “No, but I will right now,” at which point I phoned AT&T information in Latrobe, Pa. I asked for a listing for an A.D. [Arnold Daniel] Palmer. I heard, “I have no listing for A.D. Palmer, but I have an Arnold Palmer.”

I dialed the numbers and heard, “Hello?”

“Is Arnold there?”

“It’s Arnold speaking.”

I immediately dispatched one of my friends to an extension phone, as I needed corroboration for this call. I said it was Peter Deeks from Toronto, Canada, calling, and I added, “I hope I’m not bothering you.”

He said, “No, I’m putting presents under the tree for Winnie, Amy and Peggy.”

1963 AP

We talked about many subjects, but the best was me telling Arnold how to resolve issues in the PGA between the club professionals and the touring pros. The conversation carried on for 12 minutes, according to the bill I received from Bell Canada. The bill also showed the commencement time of the call at 1:06 a.m. Christmas Day.

In December 1989, my brother Jim and family came to our house for Christmas dinner. He gave me two presents and said, “Open the small one first.” I did so, and it was a video to be watched “immediately.”

On comes Arnie saying, “Hi, I’d like to wish Peter, Wendy and Sarah and Jocelyn Deeks a very Merry Christmas. . . . Peter, do me a favor and call me again, but don’t make it on Christmas Eve, OK?”

I was stunned. Then I was to open the large present, and it was a cue card with the above message and signed, “Arnold Palmer.”

Jim, a TV director, had been assigned to do a TV promo in June 1989 for the Cadillac Skins Game being played in Toronto. He’d prepared the cue card in advance, and Arnold readily agreed to do it when the serious work was completed. The cue card has been framed and adorns a wall of our family room.

Rocco Mediate
Golf Digest, September 2009

I was fortunate to be paired with Mr. Palmer at the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, which was his last U.S. Open. Friday afternoon, we were walking up the 18th fairway toward the green. I was about 50 yards or so behind him, just taking it all in: huge galleries as far as you could see and applause as loud as it could possibly be, just to acknowledge and admire the man they all loved and had cheered for so long. It didn’t matter what he shot. It mattered to them that he was there, and they appreciated it.

When I putted out on 18 I went to him, shook his hand and said, “You made all this possible for golf—this is all because of you.” At that we both were overcome with emotion.

Arnold Palmer
Golf Digest, January 2000

I would have loved to have won an Open at Pebble Beach, which I thought I was going to do. And I suppose if there’s one thing missing from my career, it’s the PGA Championship. I had my chances, but it never happened. If I could crank it up for one more week and go out and win one, that would be nice. But I know that’s out of the question. . . . At least, I think it’s out of the question.

Arnold Palmer
Golf Digest, January 2000, when asked if anyone ever had as much fun as he did:

If they did, they had a hell of a time.