Arnold Palmer - The Legend from Latrobe

Arnold Palmer - The Legend from Latrobe

If the patrician Bobby Jones, an amateur, a lawyer and winner of the first Grand Slam in 1930 was the darling of the middle class galleries, dapper Walter Hagen had already lifted the professionals out of the caddy shack ten years earlier by refusing to be treated like a second class citizen.

Arnold Palmer at 23.But it was not until Arnold Daniel Palmer came swaggering on to the stage, that the masses found their hero. Arnold Palmer hit the golf scene like a tornado, just as it was beginning to be televised on a regular basis.

He was a natural, a swashbuckling extrovert with a slashing swing whose emotions were etched clearly for all to see on his ruggedly handsome mobile face. For Palmerborn in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1929, there was only way to hit the ball, hard.

His genius did not come wrapped in a robotic swing, the pressure cloaked behind a dead pan expression. With Palmer, what you saw was what you got, a go for broke golfer with whom the fans could equate. His joy, disappointment, anger, frustration, amazement and disbelief were out there in the open for all to see.

So it was no surprise that as his reputation grew, so did the number of his fans and before long Palmer was the commander in chief of a noisy, adoring horde, Arnie’s Army. It has diminished and aged over the years but it’s still there.

Walter Hagen helped transform the status of the professional from club servant to super star. Banned from the clubhouse when the British Open was played at Deal in 1920, Hagan hired a Rolls Royce and ate his lunch in it from a hamper prepared in the kitchens of the Ritz Hotel.

He didn’t win the Open that year but he did on four subsequent occasions, the first, perhaps of the high flying fast living play boy stars of the game.” I don’t want to be a millionaire” he is alleged to have said, “I just want to live like one.”

Bobby Jones, arguably the best ever player, set different standards both on and off he course. Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1902, Jones played in only 52 tournaments either amateur or professional and won 23 of them including a never to be repeated Grand Slam in 1930.

He had already won his fourth U.S. Amateur title, the British Open twice and the U.S. Open three times when in an astounding year of 1930 he won the U.S. Open, the British Open, the British Amateur and the U.S. Amateur. He then quit the game to design golf clubs, write books, make instructional films and of course design and build the fabled Augusta course and the Masters.

Nobody will ever match what Jones achieved but in his time golf was, in the main and especially on this side of the Atlantic, a game for the better off. But the arrival of Palmer, changed all that, he gave the game mass appeal, making millions in process. And the public loved him for it, Arnie, was one of them.

He was the son of Milfred “Deacon” Palmer who was he course superintendent and professional at the Latrobe Country Club course and lived in a small house near the sixth hole.

He won the U.S. Amateur title in 1954,turned professional and married his beloved Winifred Walzer. He won the Canadian Open the following year, pocketed $2,000 and an astounding career was launched.

By the end of l993 the amazing Arnie had amassed 92 Championships, 61 of them on the U.S. PGA Tour. But the one which send his popularity zooming and began the golf boom for which he was responsible was his victory in the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver when he came from seven shots off the pace to win.

Now he had the reputation of a man who could produce a charge and win. And while it was not strictly true, it never left him. He won the Masters four times, the British Open in l961 and ’62 but never won the U.S. PGA, finishing second three times. He was also runner up on four other occasions in the U.S. Open.

Palmer had and still has charisma, the common touch and a kindness not often seen at his level of sporting achievement and the humility taught him by his father.

Larry Guest wrote a riveting biography of the man he has known, loved and written about for years. He told his readers the secret of Palmer’s success in his introduction to Arnie Inside the Legend.

“I was serving as Arnie’s caddie, a one week adventure on assignment for Golf magazine “ he wrote “suddenly I could see and feel what had been under my nose for years. One of the most important conduits between Arnie and his Army is a simple little statement of mutual respect, eye contact.”

“As was his habit throughout the tournament, Arnie strolled the tees each time the group ahead had not cleared the fairway. He’d make a tight circle, scanning the faces behind the gallery ropes, nodding here, offering a greeting there.”

“It’s a practice that spoke volumes, a simple, thoughtful gesture that not only brought him to their level, but expressed an appreciation for their presence.”

Palmer was not perfect and was petty in his rivalry with Jack Nicklaus but he was the peoples champion, they loved how he flirted with danger and lived to tell many lurid tales of triumph. He could also drink beers and shots with the best of them.

Tiger Woods may beat his records, Jack Nicklaus already has but Arnold Palmer is still said to be the biggest earner of them all.

He hit thousands of great shots but two have entered the folklore of the game, his drive to the first at Cherry Hills in l960 and his 6 iron to the l5th at Royal Birkdale a year later.

Palmer trailed Mike Souchak by seven shots after three rounds of the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills but smashed his drive 346 yards on to the first green to set up an outward 30. He came home in 35,his 65 giving him a two shots winning edge on Nicklaus.

At Birkdale, Palmer was leading Dai Rees by a shot in the last round of the British Open when he buried his ball in savage rough at the l5th. But he smashed a six iron out of what looked an impossible lie to within fifteen feet of the hole.

Two putts and a steady finish gave Palmer his first British Open by a shot from the tenacious Welshman, Rees. A plaque marks the spot but now its some distance from the fairway because, following renovation, the hole is now the sixteenth.