On September 25, 2016 the sporting world lost a major figure. Arnold Palmer was not the greatest player to ever hit a golf ball. He didn’t have the prettiest swing nor did he win any and all tournaments he possibly could have during his career. But he certainly made the greatest impact to the modern PGA Tour as we now know it.
Mr. Palmer took the golfing world by storm in the early sixties with his win at 1960 Masters Event. He would go on to win six more major titles and 92 events worldwide. This son of a greenskeeper with the go-for-broke attitude was the first golfer to embrace the crowds around him and interact with them on their level. Mr. Palmer cultivated a persona that was a stark removal from the elegance of Harry Vardon, the brooding perfection seeking of Ben Hogan or the aloof nature of Lord Byron Nelson. Arnold Palmer loved the crowds. And the crowds loved him back. So much so that the hordes of followers he would amass came to be known as Arnie’s Army. Wherever Mr. Palmer would play, droves of them would follow.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Palmer several times. On one occasion, I had the distinct pleasure of having breakfast with him here in Massachusetts at an event announcing his design of a local golf course. He arrived on time. Participated in the event in its entirety. Answered any and all questions posed his way. And signed any autograph that was asked of him with his trademark beautiful penmanship. In a word he was a man – a perfect gentleman.
I have been around other professional athletes and celebrities in my career. I know they get pulled and poked and have a great deal asked of their time. Some of them deal with it well. Others not so much. They could all learn from Mr. Palmer and the way he always comported himself.
Here was a man who, in partnership with Mark McCormack of IMG, created the modern sports agency. A man who flew his own jet. A man who revolutionized how golf was seen on TV and who forged the current PGA with its pampered pros and astronomical purses. A man who at all times never forgot his roots nor his place as a member of society – not someone above it.
I asked Mr. Palmer for his autograph when we had finished breakfast that morning and of course he obliged. When he gave it to me I was stunned at how perfect his signature was. You could easily read it and see how much pride and craftsmanship he had put into it, perfecting it over the years. I commented to him that his signature was great. He then told me that his father, whom he then credited him with “teaching him every *&% damn thing worth knowing,” told him, “‘Son if people take time out to ask you for your autograph and care enough about you to sign something for them, then make sure they can read it.’” I chuckled. He did not. This was the credo he lived his professional life by. Do unto others… it is a lesson professionals of all stripes sometimes forget.
I still have that autograph prominently displayed in my home. I’m sure I always will for it is the mark of a true gentleman, and a reminder to do all things with pride and care. Rest in peace, Mr. Palmer. The world will miss you.