Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arnold Palmer Transcended the Sport of Golf

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arnold Palmer Transcended the Sport of Golf

Article excerpt

Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday, was golf's first pro to win a million dollars - and changed the sport forever.

Palmer invaded a golf course like a guy jumping through a skylight cradling a German Luger. But his go-for-broke approach on the course was matched by an unfailing charisma off the course. Win or lose, usually he was the last guy signing autographs after the end of a tournament.

"Arnold transcended the game of golf," long-time on course rival and friend Jack Nicklaus said in a statement Sunday. "He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself. Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans.

"He was the king of our sport and always will be."

For those who never saw Palmer in his prime, playing the percentages was for someone else. He never lagged a putt or was reluctant to drive through a forest of trees in his life. With Palmer, it was all or nothing at all.

Yet when Palmer was on his game, there wasn't a course he couldn't bring to its knees or a 40-foot putt that he couldn't make look like a six footer.

Overall Palmer won some 62 tournaments by going for the jugular, consistently smoothing out the rough with his confidence and inventing percentages that worked only for him. Basically he performed without a net, which was part of his charm.

He also ignored several of golf's unbreakable laws, including the one that says you can't store your best shots on coat hangers and then reach for them any time you need them. The truth is Arnold had an entire wardrobe of shots that he would bring out of the closet any time he needed them.

Although Palmer never intentionally gave away any of his secrets, two things he told Sports Illustrated in 1961, after winning Sportsman of the Year, in a lengthy interview are worth repeating.

"Some players are wonderful hitters of the ball, but they can't figure out ways to get out of trouble," Palmer said. "Yet 80 percent of the time there is a way out. You just have to know how to look for it."

Later in the same interview he said: "Too many players learn a controlled swing first, then try to increase their distance and they can't. As a result, a lot of players never hit the ball hard enough."

Before Palmer came along, many of the game's greatest names (Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan) were respected by the general public but not exactly loved. They were champions under glass; untouchables.

But Palmer was loved, by truck drivers and housewives. Especially by truck drivers who immediately recognized that here was a man they could walk up to and engage in conversation without a formal introduction.

He wore a shirttail that wouldn't stay tucked and a personality that didn't mind crowds or autograph seekers. …

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