Arnold Palmer, one of golf’s greatest players whose immense popularity drew a legion of fans known as “Arnie’s Army” and helped propel the game just as television was coming of age, died on Sunday at the age of 87.
Palmer, a charismatic figure popularly known as ‘The King’ who accumulated 62 career victories on the PGA Tour including seven major championships, died at UPMC Hospital in Pittsburgh, near his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
At his death, Palmer ranked fifth on the PGA Tour’s list of all-time tournament victories.
His biggest win may have come at the 1960 U.S. Open, when he trailed by seven shots in the final round at Cherry Hills Country Club before pulling off the greatest comeback in the tournament’s history.
He beat Nicklaus, a then 20-year-old amateur, by two shots, prefacing a rivalry between the two that lasted throughout the 1960s. Palmer was especially dominant from 1960 to 1963, winning 29 PGA Tour events. He was named Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” in 1960.
Palmer had an unorthodox swing and go-for-broke style that added to his appeal among his loyal fans, who became known as “Arnie’s Army”. “I enjoy the crowds, and I enjoyed playing to them. I suppose that was one thing that helped me as much as anything,” Palmer told Golf.com in 2011. In 1967, he became the first golfer to reach $1 million in career earnings. His last PGA Tour win came in 1973.
Palmer was also a noted philanthropist, founding the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando and a number of other charities.
Palmer was born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, a small industrial town east of Pittsburgh. He was the son of a greenskeeper and later club pro at the Latrobe Country Club. He started golfing at the age of four on clubs cut down to size by his father and began caddying at Latrobe as an 11-year-old. He purchased the country club in 1971.
He attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina on a golf scholarship but left during his senior year after the death of a close friend in a car accident. Palmer returned to competitive golf after a three-year enlistment in the Coast Guard and turned pro in 1954.
He met his first wife, Winifred Walzer, at a golf tournament in Pennsylvania. They married in 1954 and had two daughters. She died in 1999. Palmer married Kathleen Gawthrop, who survived him, in 2005.