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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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)