BIRKDALE, ARNIE & GOLF'S BIG BANG; Arnold Palmer's Victory 56 Years Ago Resurrected the Open and Changed Golf Forever. His Biographer Tom Callahan Recalls the King's Glorious Invasion of Britain in the Early Sixties That Paved the Way for Nicklaus, Watson,Trevino, and, Ultimately, Tiger

Daily Mail (London), July 15, 2017 | Go to article overview

BIRKDALE, ARNIE & GOLF'S BIG BANG; Arnold Palmer's Victory 56 Years Ago Resurrected the Open and Changed Golf Forever. His Biographer Tom Callahan Recalls the King's Glorious Invasion of Britain in the Early Sixties That Paved the Way for Nicklaus, Watson,Trevino, and, Ultimately, Tiger


Byline: HUGH MacDONALD

ARNOLD PALMER liked a letter almost as much as he loved hitching his pants, letting a drive rip and making a charge towards another title.

He would respond to missives with an earnestness that apprentice golfers normally devote to extracting small balls from large patches of sand.

Palmer once received a letter from Jeff Roberts and Wally Schneider, natives of Chicago, who had found themselves serving in Chu Lai, Vietnam, during the height of the war.

They addressed it to Arnold Palmer, Latrobe, Pennsylvania. And, of course, it was delivered safely to the great man who, of course, replied in gracious terms and also sent the soldiers sand wedges and a bunch of golf balls.

The soldiers made it home safely and years later Roberts visited the Western Open in the hope of meeting the great Palmer, his pen pal on that solitary occasion. He waited outside the clubhouse until the golfer emerged, blurting out: 'I am one of the guys you sent a sand wedge to in Vietnam.' Palmer did not miss a beat. 'Are you Wally or Jeff?' he replied.

This ability to relate to people, to recall the individual, however fleeting the relationship, may not have been Palmer's greatest gift. But it was his best.

As The Open circuit wheels round to Royal Birkdale next week, scene of Palmer's first Open victory in 1961, it is appropriate to pay tribute to the uncommon commoner who became the King of Golf. In truth, though, there is never a bad time to reflect on Palmer. His gifts were divine but his essence was human.

'There have been better players than Palmer. Not many, but a few,' said Tom Callahan, friend, verbal sparring partner and now biographer. 'But no player was more important. In America, he lifted a country-club game, balanced it on those square shoulders, carried it to the people and made it a sport.' Callahan's story of Palmer is anecdotal, funny, tragic, gently provocative and profoundly affecting. It is the product of a professional lifetime spent in the court of the King. He spent many days watching Palmer in his pomp and hours chatting with the golfer even as he awaited death.

He was a friend but one who is capable of discernment as well as affection. Callahan, a sportswriter of casually extravagant gifts, has a resilience to sporting glamour and a nose that twitches at any ordure of the bull that routinely accompanies it. It is why Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer is so singularly fresh and gently revelatory.

Scots hail Palmer as the man who resurrected The Open. His victory at Birkdale was followed the next year by a sensational triumph at Troon. Arnie's Army was on manoeuvres in Britain, and America watched and applauded. Its golfers watched and followed.

Arnie had invaded and conquered. Fellow Americans Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Weiskopf, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and, ultimately, Tiger Woods would follow. The Open had been anointed by the King.

'I think being engulfed by the Scots coming down the stretch at Troon in 1962 was his fondest and most tangible memory in professional golf,' said Callahan.

'Whenever he relived that moment, his eyes danced. Palmer appreciated the singular way Scotland embraced him, Nicklaus, Watson, all the great American players in turn. It was different from anywhere else, even from the rest of Britain.

'Deacon Palmer had always told his son: "Golf is a world game" and Arnie took that to heart. The St Andrews caddie, Tip Anderson, had some influence, too, walking Arnold through all the history of all The Open courses. Arnie loved to hear people say that, by coming over in '60, '61 and '62, he changed everything.

'Normally, he was pretty good at shrugging off compliments -- for instance, he didn't like being called The King of Golf. "Golf has no King," he'd growl. "Certainly not me". But he never minimised the importance of his connection to The Open. …

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BIRKDALE, ARNIE & GOLF'S BIG BANG; Arnold Palmer's Victory 56 Years Ago Resurrected the Open and Changed Golf Forever. His Biographer Tom Callahan Recalls the King's Glorious Invasion of Britain in the Early Sixties That Paved the Way for Nicklaus, Watson,Trevino, and, Ultimately, Tiger
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