It’s been quite a week for Arnold Palmer. Two days after he celebrated his 83rd birthday, the golf legend became the sixth athlete to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in “recognition of his service to the country in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship.”
It’s the highest honor given to civilians by Congress, and Palmer couldn’t help cracking wise at the occasion.
“I’m particularly proud of anything that House and Senate agree on,” he joked Wednesday.
Palmer won more than 80 events worldwide, including seven majors, and helped popularize the game more than a half-century ago with his swashbuckling style that created his own legion of fans, nicknamed “Arnie’s Army.” He built more than 300 golf courses, as well as the Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando, Fla. In 2004, Palmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Said House Speaker John Boehner, “Arnold Palmer democratized golf, made us think that we too could go out and play, made us think that we could really do anything. All we had to do was to go out and try.”
Jack Nicklaus briefly choked up during his speech, saying, “He’s a golf icon to the world – a good friend to me.”
The only other athletes who have received the award are Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and Byron Nelson.