The world bid farewell to an icon this weekend with the passing of Arnold Palmer at 87-years-young. Fortunately, he left us with countless memories throughout his life, but none may be more memorable than his time spent out at Augusta National.
First winning the event in 1958, Arnold Palmer has become synonymous with The Masters over the years, but this year, in what would be his final trip, he decided he’d do things differently.
For many years now golf’s Big Three has started off The Masters with ceremonial tee shots, but yesterday, only legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player took swings as Arnie watched from the tee box. In what was the final appearance of Big Three, fans were simply excited to catch a glimpse of golf’s greatest together for one moment.
One thing has always been true, The Masters is about Arnold Palmer, and this year was no different.
Together the three men combined for 34 major championships – including 13 Masters – but in spite of the fierce competition between them, they always remained good friends, even to this day.
“I think he was delighted to be out there. I think we were delighted to have him there,” Jack Nicklaus said of Palmer’s presence on the first tees. “I think both Gary and I felt it was more about Arnold this morning than anything else, and I think that was just fine.”
During his playing days Palmer was golf’s first TV star. Coming from humble beginnings, Palmer popularized golf in the 1950’s by changing the perception of the game from an elite, wealthy man’s pastime to a sport that anyone can pick up, and enjoy.
Arnold Palmer’s rise to fame could be attributed to many things, but none more so than his style of play. While fans were captivated by his folksy personality, and charisma off the course, it was his fearlessness on the course that drew fans in, and kept them paying attention.
“He played golf like everybody else played.”
– Jack Nicklaus
The son of a professional groundskeeper, Palmer was raised on the golf course. Arnie attended Wake Forest College on a golf scholarship before enlisting, and serving in the United States Coast Guard for three years. After his service he returned to college and competitive golf.
In 1954, he won the U.S. Amateur leading him to turn pro at 24-years-old. In 1955, Palmer won his first event, The Canadian Open, and brought home a whopping $2,400. With golf starting to be televised, the young, good-looking, charismatic Palmer was destined for stardom. His 1958 Masters win thrusted Palmer into the spotlight, and he was more than willing to soak in it for as long as he could.
Palmer wasn’t satisfied with being the sport’s biggest American star, he wanted to be the most popular golfer in the world. In order to do that he would have to do what most American golfers wouldn’t: participate in the British Open. In 1961, Palmer won The Open Championship, and again the following year, making him widely popular with the European audience, as well as the American.
Palmer would go on to win seven majors over the course of his career, but retiring from the PGA Tour hasn’t stopped Arnie from growing the game into the incredibly popular sport it is today. He has designed several courses, including Bay Hill’s Club & Lodge, and helped found The Golf Channel.
Still struggling to maintain balance after a fall at his home last year, Palmer made the decision to sit out this year’s ceremonial tee shot, but he did make the trip to the course that made him famous. Hundreds gathered on the chilly spring morning to watch Golf’s Big Three, maybe for the last time.
Gary Player reflected on the moment, and shared some touching words about his golfing buddies:
“To have longevity has been a special gift. And to come here today and to be on the tee with Arnold being a part of us, it was gratifying and sad, because everything shall pass. But it was nice to have him on the tee. It was very special.”
Today, the game of golf is in great hands with young stars like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, and Jason Day leading the way, but these guys might not have the name recognition if it weren’t for golfers like Arnold Palmer blazing the trail.
Here is a replay of this year’s ceremonial tee shots. While the balls fly straight off the tee, with this video water definitely comes into play, so grab some tissues:
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 7, 2016
Arnold Palmer’s style of play, and charisma helped give rise to the popularity of golf around the world. He changed the perception of the sport from a country-club attending, wealthy man’s game, to an activity enjoyed by all. Not to mention, he INVENTED the ‘Arnold Palmer!’
Here’s to a legend. Rest in peace, Arnie!