Arnie: Palmer and TV is the perfect match

By Jay CoffinSeptember 10, 2014, 10:00 am

The timing was superb. So good, in fact, that it wasn’t a fair fight.

Television in the late 1950s was in the midst of a phenomenal growth spurt. Only an estimated 9 percent of U.S. households had TV sets at the beginning of the decade. By 1958, the figure was almost 85 percent. Televised golf was expanding as well. From the modest beginnings of a single-station broadcast of parts of the 1947 U.S. Open and the first nationally televised tournament, the 1953 Tam O'Shanter World Championship, by 1958 televised golf included the Masters (only holes 15-18), U.S. Open (only the final day) and PGA Championship (for the first time). 

What was missing, however, was a superstar, someone who could appeal to the masses, someone everyone could adore. The careers of the two winningest players of the postwar era, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, were winding down. And though both men were supremely talented, they weren't especially charismatic. Nor did anyone else in men's professional golf have the right combination of accomplishment and  let's be honest  sex appeal.

Until, at that precise time, along came a dashing 20-something who was infinitely cooler than the coolest person you know.

Arnold Palmer hitched up his pants before every swat, flicked away the cigarette that had been dangling from his lips and swung for the fences with a violent, corkscrew-type swing. He backed up his style with substance, too, collecting all seven of his major victories in a six-year span from 1958-64.

Simply, Arnold Palmer and television made an unbeatable pair. Everything about Palmer was irresistible to television cameras. Television cameras made Palmer larger than life. He quickly became everybody’s hero.

“Television was great for golf and Arnold, and Arnold was great for television. It worked both ways,” Jack Nicklaus said. “Arnold was flamboyant and exciting, fun to watch. People gravitated to him because he played these great recovery shots and that’s what people related to.”

“They were made for each other," legendary sportscaster Jack Whitaker said. "Arnold would have been good anyway without television, but I think the combination – his personality and television – was a marvelous cocktail.”

The ingredients of that cocktail first were concocted in 1958 when Palmer dramatically won his first major championship at the Masters. He made eagle on the par-5 13th hole on the way to a one-shot victory. Palmer’s charm and presence were on display for a national audience that Sunday at Augusta National as the Masters was televised for only the third time. On that splendid Georgia day amongst the blooming azaleas Arnie’s Army was born.

“I was watching just like the rest of America, watching the Masters as a kid and obviously he was winning,” Ben Crenshaw recalls. “His fashion, the way he won and the way that he would play, it seemed like everything got caught up in his wake when he played.”

Two years later the legend grew exponentially. Having already birdied the final two holes to win the 1960 Masters by a shot, Palmer came from seven shots behind in the final round to shoot 65 and win his first U.S. Open.

Angered by a reporter friend's comment before the final round that he had no chance to win, a steaming Palmer drove the green on the par-4 opening hole for an easy two-putt birdie, then chipped in for birdie on the second. In all he birdied the first four holes and six of the first seven. 

Arnold Palmer

Arnie's Army stretched across the globe; here at the 1960 British (Getty)

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That same year Palmer  – on the basis of a handshake deal – agreed to be represented by friend Mark McCormack's International Management Group, which would quickly become sport’s first super agency. McCormack sought to capitalize on his client’s good looks, modest background, affability and golfing prowess. The plan from the start was to turn Palmer’s total package into a global brand. In two years Palmer’s endorsement earnings skyrocketed from $6,000 per year to $500,000.

Interest in golf, particularly on TV, towered too.

“If it wasn’t for Arnold, the way he played the game and how he caught the imagination of the public, it would’ve taken the game many more years to have grown and gain the recognition that it gained under Arnold’s achievements,” Billy Casper said.

The complete list of those achievements is too vast to recount, and you likely already know the most significant accolades anyway. Just know that as Palmer’s resume continued to spike, so, too, did interest in the game.

“He was a blue-collar type golfer,” Jack Nicklaus said. “He won, but he was a good leader and a good champion and a good role model for the game. Had it been another guy coming along and wasn’t a good role model or didn’t handle himself well, I think that would have hurt the game.”

The King’s immense popularity for the first four decades of his career (1950s-80s) is a large reason why Golf Channel was launched nearly 20 years ago. Entrepreneur Joe Gibbs first hatched the idea of a 24-hour golf network in the early 1990s and shared it with Palmer.

Gibbs needed name recognition and instant credibility. He persuaded Palmer to buy into his idea and the duo secured $80 million in financing over the next couple of years. On Jan. 17, 1995, Palmer made the ceremonial flip of the switch to launch the network that now is available in more than 82 million homes.

“Gentlemen, if I hadn’t tried to hit it through the trees a few times in my life, none of us would be here,” Gibbs recalls Palmer saying at the meeting where Palmer was finally convinced that Golf Channel was something that could be sustainable. “After that, he was committed.”

Said Palmer: “I never thought I would sit and watch a golf program every day, day in and day out as I do now.

“A lot of people thought, ‘Well, that might not work’, but it has worked so well. To see what has happened here is certainly one of the great thrills of my life.”

Palmer has had many great thrills in his 85 years but has provided many more to those who have seen him both on the tube and in person. In both forms, Palmer has always moved the needle.

“I feel we were very fortunate to have the right guy come along at the right time,” Dow Finsterwald said.

And extremely fortunate that Palmer became best friends with television all those years ago.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.