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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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”

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Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”