The name Arnold Palmer has been synonymous with excellence for decades. His contribution to the sporting world and the game of golf cannot be measured, and his achievements and accolades put him on a pinnacle of success and glory. In many ways, Palmer exemplified the successful American dream in his rise to success, and his love and passion for the game golf have etched his name amongst the greatest athletes to ever walk the earth.
Early Life and Learning the Game
Palmer was born to a working class family in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on September 10th, 1929. In his early years, Arnold would follow his father to work as a groundskeeper for the Latrobe Country Club, taking advantage of his chance to play rounds whenever he got a chance. These small opportunities paid dividends, as the local owners encouraged Arnold to continue working on his craft when his skill was recognized. By the time he was set to attend college at Wake Forest University, Arnold had earned a golf scholarship. After beginning his time at the university, however, he decided to enlist in the United States Coast Guard. During his enlistment term, Arnold built a golf course at his training facility, unable to give up on the sport he loved. When his term ended, Arnold returned to Wake Forest and to competitive golf.
After winning the 1954 US Amateur in Detroit, Palmer announced his intentions to turn professional, as many established competitors in the sport recognized the insatiable talent he was. In his rookie year in 1955, Palmer would win the Canadian Open and catch the eyes and attention of many veteran players and U.S. golf as a whole. He would work earnestly over the next few seasons to improve his game, waiting for his chance to breakthrough on a Majors victory.
1958 Masters and Controversy
Palmer’s big opportunity for a breakthrough Major would come in April of 1958 at the hallowed ground of the Masters Tournament in Augusta. In excellent form the beginning rounds of the tournament, Arnold managed to tie Sam Snead for the lead going into the fourth and final round. Paired with Ken Venturi, only five individuals made up their group, as televised golf with huge crowds had not yet been popularized. In an unfortunate shot, Arnold overhit the green and the ball plugged. Palmer insisted that under a local rule in effect, his shot was entitled to relief. However, the rule was extremely vague, and the judge disagreed. Playing out the ball where it was, Arnold went on to double-bogey the hole, putting him a few shots behind the official lead. Still unwilling to relinquish his view on the rule, Arnold gave himself the relief on the shot after the double-bogey occurred, shooting a par on the second attempt. The rules committee eventually sided with Arnold on the ruling interpretation, effectively replacing his double-bogey with a par. In today’s golfing world, Venturi among others believe the second shot would never count. Regardless, Arnold’s second shot was counted, and he walked away from the 1958 Master Tournament victorious, solidifying himself as one of the top players in the world.
Continued Success at the Highest Level
Palmer would not skip a beat after his first Masters victory, winning the prestigious tournament again in 1960 while also capturing the U.S. Open Championship that same season. Going for the trifecta of Major wins, Palmer made an unprecedented move for his time, traveling overseas to compete for the British Open title. Though he failed to capture the British crown, Palmer’s interest in the event revitalized the American and British competition, and brought many American golfers to Britain in future tournaments. Palmer would cap off his historic 1960 season by winning the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year Award.
Palmer’s most successful years were between 1960 and 1963. During that time, he would capture 29 PGA tours win including 5 Majors wins. Because of his unquestionable skill, passion, and charisma, Palmer reached the pinnacle of the golfing world, and is largely credited with popularizing the sport on an international level. His crowd of loyal fans, known by many “Arnie’s Army,” followed his every shot, and his increased national attention proved golf deserved a place amongst televised sports. The respect Arnold Palmer both demanded and deserved on the greens was unquestionable, and no matter the pressure or expectations that built, his impeccable character and love for the game shone through.
A Legacy of Success
Palmer leaves behind a legacy of brilliance. His game is remembered and revered in every corner of the golfing world. Since his peak career success, he has been awarded both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, and has given freely to philanthropic works both domestic and international. He passed in 2016 as an ambassador for the game and defining figure in the sporting world.
Capture a piece of Arnold Palmer's legacy with this iconic print from VintageSports.com
Sam Katulich is a content writer and research intern for Vintage Sports. Originally from Leonardtown, MD, he is currently a student at Samford University in Birmingham, AL and is majoring in Economics/Finance.
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