Arnold Palmer, affectionately known as The King, died on Sept. 25 at the age of 87, and it’s just now sinking in. I’m far too young to be able to truly appreciate what The King meant to his generation of fans, but I am able to appreciate his role in making the game of golf, and the world of sports, what it is today.
Palmer, born in 1929 to a working class family in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, burst onto the golfing scene in the 1950s right as the sport was beginning to be broadcast on television. There was Palmer, the charismatic, swashbuckling star with his go-for-broke style, making his charge to the top of the leaderboard for everyone with a television set to see. Palmer enjoyed tremendous success during his playing career, winning 62 PGA Tour titles, including seven major championships. He was the everyman’s golfer, his humble background coupled with his homemade swing with the helicopter finish appealing to the masses.
His fans, known as Arnie’s Army, followed him around the globe to cheer on their man. Palmer, never one to view himself as above anything, always made time for his fans, signing autographs and taking a moment to chat in hopes of repaying some of the adoration that was shown to him.
Once his playing career took a back seat, he was able to stay involved in the game and managed to give back some of what he received. Palmer was instrumental in starting the Senior PGA Tour [known now as the PGA Tour Champions] in 1980, a circuit in which he won 10 events, including five senior major championships. Palmer was also a co-founder of the Golf Channel, tv’s first 24-hour specialty sports channel.
All of this contributes to the legacy of The King, a man whose larger than life persona will continue to transcend himself after his death. As we celebrate the life of one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, it is important that we attempt to do our part to continue his legacy and embody his best qualities.
Today’s tour players, save for maybe Phil Mickelson, seem to take their fame and success for granted and have become a little out of touch with their fans. Maybe it’s a product of the large sums of money they play for but rarely do you hear of a player spending hours after their round to sign autographs or to respond to a fan’s letters. Palmer, a man who always had a smile for whoever he was talking to, seems to be more of a bygone ideal to today’s athletes than someone they should emulate.
How often do you see Tiger Woods smile at his fans? Or in general? What about any of the current players? Do you ever see them engage an audience the way The King did?
As we move forward without Arnold, I hope that today’s golfers, and athletes in any sport for that matter, remember their fans. As much as we idolize the greats, it’s because of the fans that their accomplishments matter. The best way to remember Mr. Palmer and to carry on his legacy is for today’s players to emulate him and to appreciate what they have in an effort to connect with their fans like The King did.
Lee Sanderlin is a junior journalism major from High Point, North Carolina.