Matthew Bates profiles the inimitable Arnold Palmer, a man so gifted on the course and so charismatic off it, only one nickname would do. Few golfers have captivated fans like Arnold Palmer did during his long career in the sport. Known as 'The King', Palmer's boundless enthusiasm and love for the game has made him a hugely popular figure all over world. Palmer won seven major championships in his career, but it was his personality, as much as his play, that made him so popular, and attracted the huge fan base we call 'Arnie's Army'.
In his father's footsteps
Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on September 10, 1929, Palmer took up golf after following his father round Latrobe Country Club. Palmer was given his first golf club by his father at the age of four, and it was not long before his natural ability shone through. In his late teens, Palmer won a golf scholarship at Wake Forest University but withdrew during his course when close friend Bud Worsham died. Instead, he joined the Coast Guard where his love for golf soon reignited, and he started playing the game that would define his life once again.
An Augusta love affair begins
Palmer shot to the fame in 1954, winning the US Amateur at Detroit Country Club, and he turned professional soon after. It didn't him long to reach the top of the professional game. Just four years after his Amateur triumph, he was victorious in the event that would define his career - The Masters. Palmer won at Augusta four times, and he achieved the remarkable feat in 2004 of playing in his 50th consecutive Masters. He has been the tournament's honorary starter since 2007 (as pictured), hitting a tee shot down the first hole through the early Thursday morning mist. He is also an honorary member of the club.
Seven in seven for Arnie
Palmer's victory in the 1958 Masters started a run that would see him win seven majors in seven years. Between 1960 and 1963 he won 29 PGA Tour events, and in 1960 he won his second Masters and his first US Open in the space of two glorious months. His victory at Augusta that year saw Palmer birdie the last two holes of the tournament to beat Ken Venturi by a shot. He was duly named PGA Player of the Year for the first time, and won the coveted Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 1960 - becoming the first golfer to receive the award.
The King conquers Britain
The following year, Palmer added the Open Championship to his collection, becoming the first American to lift the claret jug since Ben Hogan in 1953. It was an important moment in Open history. Palmer's victory at Royal Birkdale was televised in the US and unquestionably raised the profile and stature of the event on the other side of the Atlantic. In 1962 Palmer defended his Open title as well as winning yet another Masters, and he was once again named PGA Player of the Year.
In 1963 Palmer led the USA into the Ryder Cup as a playing captain, the last man to do so. He played in six Ryder Cups between 1961 and 1973, and is second in most points won for his country with 23, only half a point behind Billy Casper. He now has his name stamped onto a similar event, as each year the best college players from the USA take on their counterparts from Europe in the Palmer Cup. The tournament was first held in 1997 at the Bay Hill Country Club, Florida - a club owned by Palmer and one which holds a prestigious PGA Tour event each year.
The King continues to reign over golf
Today, Palmer spends his time raising money for a number of different charities that bear his name. In 2004 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US, and it is a fitting tribute to the life of Palmer, as it shows that it is not just his golf that people admire. His courage, his kind character and his warm-hearted nature are all reasons why people still respect him. And he is still going strong at the age of 79, spending his time giving something back to the people and fans that have followed him and respected him as a golfer, and as a man, throughout the decades. It may be 45 years on from Palmer's last major victory at the 1964 Masters, but Arnie's Army is still going strong.
- Matthew Bates, for Golf.co.uk
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