This is the saddest day in golf.
Arnold Daniel Palmer, the game’s most beloved icon and one of the world’s great sportsmen, died Sunday afternoon at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh. He was 87.
We knew he couldn’t live forever but we still could wish and hope. He was the anointed King years ago and don’t we always say, “Long live the King?”
But he did live long and well. He loved golf and people in equal measure and the love from both was returned to him one thousand-fold, at the very least. He was an idol to common folk in his salad days and a hero to hundreds of professional golfers in his later years. Many a pro has said, “I want to be like Arnold.” They should be so lucky to be a small fraction of what Palmer became.
Palmer lived up to his pedestal status with a humility that spoke to his modest upbringing, the son of a golf course superintendent, which he never forgot. But he also caused everyone in his path to melt with a crooked smile and a masculine handshake that demonstrated he knew who exactly who he was – a celebrity athlete comfortable in the spotlight.
But what he did for golf was far beyond his own notoriety. Because of Palmer, golf was broadcast on network television. That drove up purses in professional golf and every player in the Palmer era owed him a debt of gratitude.
Palmer put golf in the big time and he never rose above that. Everyone he smiled at or signed an autograph for will remember it always. In that respect, Arnie will live forever.