Palmer, the King of golf, dies at age 87

By Randall MellSeptember 26, 2016, 1:00 am

Whatever cosmic substance was woven into Arnold Palmer’s DNA, we may never see the likes of it again.

While Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan won more PGA Tour events, Palmer won more intangible treasures.

Really, how do you measure all the hearts Palmer lured to the game?

If somebody up in the cosmos is keeping a record of that, Palmer’s mark may never be broken.

Alastair Johnston, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, confirmed to Golf Channel that Palmer died Sunday afternoon due to complications of heart problems. While Palmer might not be remembered as the single greatest player who ever lived, he died Sept. 25 at age 87 as the most beloved. 

That’s his real legacy. That’s what earned him his nickname “the King.” That’s why there is such deep grieving today.

Born Arnold Daniel Palmer on Sept. 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pa., he would go on to win 62 PGA Tour titles and amass a total of 95 professional wins. He won seven majors: four Masters, two British Opens and one U.S. Open. He won at least one PGA Tour event over 17 consecutive years (1955-1971). Nobody has won in more consecutive years, with only Nicklaus equaling the mark (1962-78). Palmer played on six American Ryder Cup teams (all winners), serving twice as captain, and he remains today the last playing captain (1963). Four times, he won the Vardon Trophy as the PGA Tour pro with the lowest scoring average.

Palmer’s amateur record was also formidable. He was the first player from Wake Forest to win the NCAA individual championship. He won it in 1949 and again in ’50, but he left college as a senior, deeply affected when his teammate and best friend, Bud Worsham, was killed in a car accident. “Wake without Bud was unthinkable,” Palmer wrote in his autobiography, “A Golfer’s Life.” After three years in the Coast Guard, Palmer returned to Wake Forest, winning the U.S. Amateur in ’54 before turning pro.

The marks Palmer left on the game as a World Golf Hall of Famer go beyond his playing record.

Palmer helped build the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando. He founded Arnie’s Army Battles Prostate Cancer and contributed to countless charitable endeavors. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012. His architectural company has built more than 300 golf courses around the world. He helped found Golf Channel, and he even has a drink named after him, a mix of iced tea and lemonade.

Into his 80s, Palmer’s appeal didn’t wane. He was on the cover of the video game “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14,” alongside Woods. He was photographed planting a kiss on the cheek of Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton during the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013.

“I’ve always wanted to meet Arnold, he’s a legend,” Upton was quoted saying.

In 2012, Palmer, at 82, ranked third on Golf Digest’s annual list of highest paid golfers, ranking behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

What set Palmer apart?

“In a word, it’s charisma,” the late CBS television director Frank Chirkinian once said.

It wasn’t just Palmer’s triumphs that got him on a box of Wheaties and on the cover of Sports Illustrated 11 times. It was the dynamic way Palmer carried himself. It was the derring-do nature of his bold charges and how they came to define his career. It was also how he was able to make his legion of followers believe they were making the charge with him, that they were invited guests, welcomed along in his adventures.

“The manner in which Arnold won, the way he attacked and made birdies, it was very spectacular,” Dow Finsterwald, the ’58 PGA champion and a close friend to Palmer, once said.

Palmer was a superstar, but he became so with a grassroots appeal in the way he related to his fans. He was one of them, a blue-collar boy who used to work on a tractor with his superintendent/club pro father at Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania.

“The high-handicap player, he doesn't have much course management,” said Bob Toski, a Hall of Fame teacher who was PGA Tour’s leading money winner in 1954. “He always goes for broke. So did Arnie. The difference was that Arnie would knock it in the trees and make a 3. I think golf, with TV coming into the game, was really ready for a player who attacked like that. Arnie was a star, and he had a way of making people feel a part of it all.”

Palmer won the U.S. Open in 1960, coming from seven shots back in the final round at Cherry Hills. He won after boldly driving the first green, a par 4, and making a birdie. That same year, he birdied the final two holes to beat Ken Venturi at the Masters.

The derring-do also led to some spectacular collapses. Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper over the final nine holes in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in 1966.

Palmer’s dynamic personality was a perfect fit with television discovering the sport.

Leaning on a golf club, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, Palmer was James Dean in golf spikes back then. He had that rebel spirit over the ball, a go-for-broke style that made viewers lean into their TV sets.

Chirkinian was there directing CBS productions when Palmer took command of the new technological stage in sports.

“Arnold was great theater,” Chirkinian said more than once. “The camera, it loves you or hates you, there is no in between. The camera loves Arnold Palmer.”

Of course, Palmer’s career would become dramatically bound to the emergence of Nicklaus, who as a rookie infuriated Arnie’s Army, beating Palmer at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Nicklaus won in a playoff in what was virtually Palmer’s backyard, igniting a rivalry that would shape a complex relationship.

“We didn’t always see eye to eye on everything,” Nicklaus once said. “But one thing I’ll always be proud of: In important matters, when it came to the Tour and the game of golf, we always stood together.”

Five times, they finished 1-2 in major championships, with Nicklaus taking the ’62 U.S. Open, the ’65 Masters and the ’67 U.S. Open and Palmer the ’60 U.S. Open and ’64 Masters.

They loved beating each other.

“I always looked to see what he shot,” Palmer said.

Even outside the ropes, as business and golf course architectural rivals, they competed hard. Through it all, there was mutual respect that evolved into friendship.

“It was a great rivalry, and the rivalry didn’t take away from the friendship,” Palmer said late in 2013.

The nature of the relationship came through when Palmer’s first wife, Winnie, died in November of ’99. Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, left PGA Tour Q-School at Doral, where they were watching their son, Gary. They flew to Latrobe to attend Winnie’s funeral. There, Palmer invited Nicklaus to watch Gary win his PGA Tour card on television. They reportedly fell into each other’s arms in joy and sadness. 

Nicklaus appreciated what Palmer meant to the game.

“There's no question about his record and ability, but think of how much he brought to the game,” Nicklaus once said. “The hitch of his pants. The fans. He paralleled the growth of television golf. He was just the right man at just the right time.”

Palmer had the magical quality of making his fans believe he loved them as much as they loved him.

That’s no small feat in a world where celebrities can grow to despise the insatiable appetites of their followers.

“Hell, I know them all by name,” Palmer once joked. “They call me at home. There’s a lot of truth in that.”

After winning his first Masters in 1958, Palmer returned to Augusta National the following year to see a soldier from nearby Fort Gordon manning a scoreboard with a sign that read: “Arnie’s Army.” The Masters began capping ticket sales with the growing invasion of Palmer fans.

Palmer’s popularity would prove good for the domestic and international game.

Back in 1960, after winning the Masters and U.S. Open, Palmer decided to fly to the Old Course at St. Andrews and play The Open at a time when most Americans skipped the championship. Palmer’s agent, Mark McCormack, believed the trip was important in making Palmer a global star.

Over drinks on the flight over, Palmer and his friend, writer Bob Drum, got to talking about Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam sweep of the majors.

“Why don’t we create a new Grand Slam?” Palmer recounted in his book “A Golfer’s Life.”

Palmer didn’t win that British Open. He lost by a single shot to Kel Nagle, but he reinvigorated the championship anyway.

“I never like to say any one man is bigger than the sport, but Arnold Palmer is a man for whom our sport owes a great debt,” Player once said. “He has been a wonderful ambassador to the game. He behaved well. He was passionate with people.”

Palmer enjoyed mingling with his fans. He touched so many of them with a simple autograph, something he never seemed to tire doing. Nobody signed more.

How many lives did he touch with all his handwritten notes?

Palmer mailed out thousands of notes of congratulations and encouragement in his lifetime.

Kyle Hitchcock, a high school sophomore back in 2001, knows the Palmer touch. He was dejected making news in South Florida after turning himself in for signing an incorrect scorecard that cost his team a berth in the state championship. Hitchcock got one of Palmer’s personal notes.

“I admire you for the courage and honesty you showed,” Palmer wrote Hitchcock. “You had to make a difficult decision with obviously damaging consequences, yet you made the right choice and you were able to walk away from the event with your head held high.”

A year later, Hitchcock won the state championship.

Palmer’s notes have become treasures to the people who have received them over the years.

The values that governed Palmer came from his parents and Pennsylvania roots, he always said. His father, Milfred, was known as “Deacon.” His mother was Doris.

“My father prided himself on simple, clear logic, a way of looking at life that I eventually accepted as `Deacon’s Gospel.’ Not surprisingly, he had the same simple reverence for the rules of the game,” Palmer wrote in “A Golfer’s Life.”

Palmer, like his father, had large, strong hands. Deacon, the superintendent and club pro at Latrobe, famously taught Arnold how to hold a golf club, with the Vardon grip, when Arnold was a young boy.

“His initial thoughts on the golf swing weren’t complicated,” Palmer wrote in his autobiography. “`Hit it hard, boy,’ he said simply. `Go find it, and hit it hard again.’”

Palmer did learn to hit it hard. His blacksmith’s lash and corkscrew finish made his swing among the game’s most distinct.

After unleashing that dynamic swing to win the U.S. Amateur in ’54, Palmer’s life changed, on and off the course. Shortly after winning that event, he met Winifred Walzer during a party at a golf tournament in Pennsylvania. In a whirlwind romance, he proposed to “Winnie” the same week he met her. Two months later, they eloped. McCormack described Winnie as a devoted wife, secretary and business partner to Palmer. During Palmer’s rookie year, the couple traveled together with a trailer behind their coral pink Ford.

Palmer bought Latrobe, the club his father worked at, in 1971. Five years later, he purchased Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, home to the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Palmer’s life wasn’t without heartache. He survived a prostate cancer diagnosis in 1996. He lost Winnie to abdominal cancer three years later. They have two daughters, Peggy Palmer Wears and Amy Palmer Saunders, and six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

In 2005, Palmer married Kathleen “Kit” Gawthrop in a private ceremony in Hawaii. “I feel like a 25-year-old again,” Palmer said after the marriage. “She’s a great lady. She’s just very special.”

Asked once about why he connected so well with people, Palmer said: “You just treat people the way you want to be treated. That’s about as simple as I can put it.”

The attitude helped him win so many more hearts than he did trophies.

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings.