Arnie: A superstar in business, too

By Al TaysSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

For someone who was a mediocre student, never finished college and hasn’t held a steady job for more than a half-century, Arnold Palmer has done alright for himself. This is really all you need to know about Arnold Palmer the businessman: In 2013 he ranked second on Forbes magazine’s annual list of highest-paid retired athletes, taking in an estimated $40 million. That was second only to Michael Jordan’s $90 million. And compared with active golfers, Palmer made more money than any PGA Tour player except Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. 

It was Palmer’s most lucrative year ever. 

That’s a lot of lemonade-flavored iced tea (or is it iced-tea-flavored lemonade?). A lot of umbrella-logoed golf shirts. A lot of Pennzoil. 

Wait, Pennzoil? That is so last millennium. The 21st-century Arnold Palmer product is more likely to be Palmer-licensed footwear or fashion, marketed to teens in Asia. 

“It's funny how the logo is very popular in Japan,” said Andy Wada, an announcer for Golf Channel Japan. “You walk down the street in Tokyo and you probably see a lot of teenage girls wearing the umbrella logo” on their skirts or shoes. The typical Palmer-logo-wearing girl almost certainly doesn’t play golf, doesn’t know anything about Palmer. “It’s just she likes it and she thinks it's cool,” Wada said. “It's kind of fascinating.” 

It shouldn’t surprise that Palmer, whose 85th birthday is Sept. 10, remains one of golf’s top earners more than 40 years after the last of his 62 PGA Tour victories. Retirement is no impediment to earning power. Nor, apparently, is death. The top earner on Forbes’ Celebrity 100 list for June 2013-June 2014 was singer Beyonce, but her estimated $115 million paled in comparison with the estimated $160 million earned by Michael Jackson during the same period a year before. Jackson died in 2009. 

Palmer’s ability to remain competitive in the endorsement world long after his playing days is no accident. It’s a result of the marketing strategy developed by his longtime business manager, the late Mark McCormack, founder of IMG. 

“McCormack was smart enough to realize that, let’s not sell Arnold Palmer as a winner because his opportunity to win golf tournaments is going to have a fairly short shelf life,” said Ian O’Connor, author of "Arnie & Jack." “Let’s market him as your next-door neighbor, as a successful man you want to spend time with, who would give you the shirt off his back. It was a brilliant strategy because it worked for decades. Nobody could knock Arnold off that endorsement mound. It wasn’t, ‘Arnold Palmer the greatest golfer in the world.’ It was, ‘Arnold Palmer the greatest guy in the world.’” 

McCormack and Palmer, who had briefly crossed paths as college golfers - Palmer at Wake Forest and McCormack at William & Mary - began their professional relationship over a handshake in 1960. McCormack had to agree to represent only Palmer, a promise that Palmer would soon let him out of. 

In Palmer, McCormack had a dream client. Not only was he a skilled player, he oozed charisma. Lean, tanned, with a weathered outdoorsman’s rugged looks highlighted by tautly muscled forearms, Palmer also held nothing back from his fans. Unlike most pro golfers of the day, who treated stoicism like a 15th club in their bag, Palmer never tried to hide his emotions. He played a power game – even then, chicks dug the long ball – and always went for the heroic shot. He won by going all out, and lost the same way. And when the round was done, he signed autographs in a novel way – as if he enjoyed it, always making sure his signature was legible. 

The fans – most of whom were introduced to Palmer through the still-new technology of television - loved him, and so did the corporate world. Some of the deals he signed led to iconic relationships that long outlived their contracts. 

A few of the best known: 

Pennzoil: In TV ads, Palmer referred to the tractor that he and his father used for maintenance at Latrobe Country Club as “my old friend.” Turns out, that was a stretch. 

That tractor had caused me a lot of grief through the years because my father was on my case all the time,” Palmer said. Skidding the wheels, sliding down the side of a hill – anything like that was sure to incur Deacon Palmer’s wrath.  “So the tractor was an interesting subject. We started doing [commercials featuring the tractor] and people caught on to them and they were very successful.” 


Arnie: Pennzoil poster boy

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The tractor resides in a warehouse at Latrobe CC, but when outings are scheduled it’s often parked beside the first tee. 

The umbrella logo: Looking for a symbol for his brand, Palmer would periodically send associates out to see what was available. “Every time they came home they’d say ‘Arnie, there’s a lot of things you can use but you’re gonna have to pay a price for them.’ Of course being a little frugal, that was not gonna sit well with me.” 

One day Palmer, McCormack and some associates were meeting in a hotel in Lancashire, Pa.  “It was raining outside and a lady got out of her car and she quick put her umbrella up and it was various colors,” Palmer recalled. “But anyway, I saw it and I turned to the group and I said ‘Has anybody checked the umbrella? Maybe we could use an umbrella as our logo.’”

Hertz rental cars: You can’t watch those old commercials featuring Palmer and O.J. Simpson without cringing, given what has become of the former football star. But there’s no denying the two men had on-screen chemistry. Hertz remains proud of its association with Palmer. In May the company celebrated the 30th anniversary of the relationship, noting that “the partnership is the longest relationship Mr. Palmer has had with a corporate sponsor.” 

One strange coincidence regarding Palmer and Simpson: On the day that Simpson was being chased by police in the infamous white Ford Bronco (June 17, 1994), Palmer was playing his final round in a U.S. Open. 

The ‘Arnold Palmer’ iced tea and lemonade drink: “I was mixing iced tea and lemonade in my kitchen since as long as I can remember,” Palmer once told Interview magazine. “It wasn't until sometime in the early 1960s that it became associated with me publicly.  I was playing golf in Palm Springs and after a round I asked the waitress in a restaurant to bring me a glass of iced tea and lemonade.  A lady sitting nearby heard me and asked the waitress to bring her a ‘Palmer,’ too.”

As a pitchman, Palmer still hasn’t lost his touch, even in his 80s. Last year he appeared with Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino in a martial-arts-style commercial for Woods’ EA Sports video game, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. 

What makes Palmer such a desirable product spokesman? 

“When he attaches his name to something, people know it’s going to work,” said Golf Channel President Mike McCarley. “And people want to be associated with him so they want to be associated with projects that he’s involved in.” 

“The reason that Arnold was such a good pitchman is that he looked very accessible to you,” said broadcaster Al Michaels. “It wasn’t as if he was on some sort of a throne and he was not approachable. I think the fans felt that they could engage with him. Just the way he walked down the fairway, the way he would engage with the gallery, his manner, just the way he looked, he looked like the kind of guy that you could approach and be a pal with.” 

The way Jaime Diaz, editor-in-chief of Golf World, sees it, consumers simply trust Palmer. “When I was a kid, we went to Arnold Palmer Cleaners,” Diaz said. “What connection is there with cleaners and golf? Nothing, except I know Arnold Palmer won’t mess up my clothes. Arnold Palmer is going to stand behind the quality of this establishment.” 

Palmer’s most enduring business achievement, however, may be his role in the founding of Golf Channel, which first went on the air in 1995.

The idea came from Birmingham, Ala., businessman Joe Gibbs, who wanted Palmer involved. There was a time when he had committed to be my partner, but then his handlers would tell him it was too risky,” Gibbs said. “And some time had gone on, a year and a half, and he said, ‘I just don’t know if I can do this.’ I flew to Orlando and I met with him in his conference room at Bay Hill and several of his people were there and they were just telling him ‘You can’t do this, Arnold. It’s too risky.’ Because I had been almost two years at that point trying to raise the money and I wasn’t successful. And Arnold looked around the room and said, ‘Gentlemen, if I hadn’t tried to hit it through the trees a few times in my life, none of us would be here.’ They just shut up and after that he was committed.” 

“You had to have a name behind it," McCarley said, "and there were a few names at the time that may have made business sense, but there was only one man who really had the charm and the charisma and the following to make something like this work.” 

“I love the idea of the Golf Channel,” Donald Trump agreed, “but it would’ve never made it without Arnold.” 

“There are certain sources of pride that he has, his golf accomplishments to his charitable work, but the Golf Channel is something that he really talks about business-wise,” said Arnold Palmer Enterprises vice president Cori Britt. “It’s something very special. He always took a special interest in it; he had an office there early on where he spent a little bit of time working with Joe, and even now when people talk about the Golf Channel, he’ll say, ‘You know, I helped build that.’” 

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:







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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."