Golfing legend Arnold Palmer died Sunday in Pittsburgh at age 87.
“I’m just so heartbroken about it,” Doc Giffin said, longtime spokesman and friend of Arnold. “As much as Arnold Palmer meant to the world, he meant that much and more to me.”
According to Alastair Johnston, his longtime agent, Palmer died of heart complications. Johnston says Palmer went to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Thursday to get cardiovascular work and grew weak over the past few days.
Palmer left an impression on everyone he met. Arnold Palmer is the epitome of the word “legend” in many ways, one being his personal interaction with everyday people. Palmer’s nickname was “The King,” and won seven major championships during his professional career, which lasted over five decades. He won the Masters four times, The Open twice and the U.S. Open once.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Arnold Palmer, golf’s greatest ambassador,” the United States Golf Association said. “Arnold Palmer will always be a champion, in every sense of the word. He inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit, displaying sportsmanship, caring for golfers and golf fans and serving as a lifelong ambassador for the sport.”
“Our stories of him not only fill the pages of golf’s history books and the walls of the museum, but also our own personal golf memories. The game is indeed better because of him and, in so many ways, will never be the same.”
Palmer was the oldest of four children, born Sept. 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Deacon, his father, was the greenskeeper at the Latrobe Country Club in 1921 and the club pro in 1933.
In 1954, Palmer began his professional career. He quickly received his first PGA Tour win at the 1955 Canadian Open in his rookie season. His first-round 64 is still the best opening round of his career.
He went on to win 62 titles on the PGA Tour, fifth-most of all time, and 92 international and senior victories. He was PGA Player of the Year twice in 1960 and 1962. With total tournament earnings of almost $7 million, he was also the tour’s leading money winner four times.
Mike Davis, USGA executive director, and CEO grew up in western Pennsylvania like Palmer. He remembers Palmer in a statement Monday morning.
“Arnold never wavered in his love for the game, from his time as an amateur until my last visit with him a few weeks ago,” Davis said. “His legacy reaches far beyond his playing career, as a lifelong ambassador for our sport. It is hard to think of anyone who had done more for golf. The game is better because of him, and in many ways will never be the same.”
Beyond golf, Arnold was a sports marketing pioneer, and he set the pace for scores of other athletes to earn millions with endorsements. Palmer was also among the highest earners in golf four decades after his final PGA Tour win.
“There is no way to adequately express the immense sense of loss that we all feel with this news,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement. “It is not an exaggeration to say there would be no modern-day PGA Tour without Arnold Palmer. There would be no PGA Tour Champions without Arnold Palmer. There would be no Golf Channel without Arnold Palmer. … The fact that his popularity never waned more than a quarter-century after his last competitive victory speaks volumes to the man, the icon and the legendary figure he was.”
Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event every season for 52 consecutive years. He began the growth of the 50-and-older Champions Tour, winning ten times and drawing some of the largest crowds.
Palmer was also successful off of the greens with golf course design, a wine collection, and apparel that includes his famous umbrella. He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge while building his winter home in Orlando, Florida. And in 2007, the PGA Tour even changed the tournament name to the “Arnold Palmer Invitational.”
“We were blessed that Arnold Palmer chose golf as a profession,” PGA of America president Derek Sprague said.
In 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964, Palmer won the Masters and is one of two champions along with Jack Nicklaus who are members of the Augusta National. Nicklaus (6) and Tiger Woods (4) are the only golfers who have won as many Masters titles.
“I was shocked to hear that we lost a great friend — and that golf lost a great friend,” Nicklaus said in a statement. “We just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports.”
Nicklaus last spoke with Palmer on his birthday, Sept. 10, and says that Palmer “sounded great.”
“It’s hard to believe that Arnold has passed, and I’m deeply saddened by his loss,” Woods said in a statement. “He meant so much to the game and to me personally. I knew that I could always call him for advice, and I looked forward to seeing him at Bay Hill and the Masters. Arnold touched so many people. My kids were born at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, and his philanthropic work will be remembered along with his accomplishments in golf. It was an honor and privilege to have known Arnold, and I’m forever grateful for his friendship.”
Palmer began a rivalry and lifelong friendship with Nicklaus and Gary Player. The trio became known as the “Big Three.” Together, they won seven straight Masters titles from 1960 to 1966 and hit ceremonial tee shots at Augusta National to signal the start of the year’s first major.
Palmer gave golf the modern version of the Grand Slam, winning all four professional majors in one year. He thought of it after winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960. Palmer made runner-up at The Open, which he said was one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But him being there at all invigorates the event, which Americans had been ignoring for years.
However, Palmer never won the PGA Championship, and he finished one major short of a career Grand Slam. But the standard he set was beyond trophies and titles. It’s the way he treats people, looking you in the eye with a smile and a wink. He made every fan feel like a friend. He signed every autograph and made sure it was legible.
“I’ve respected a number of players who came before me, but Arnold Palmer was my model on and off the course,” said Phil Mickelson. “I’m saddened by his death, but I’m a better player and perhaps a better person thanks to his example.”
For non-golf fans, Palmer is best known for the drink title after him. He ordered his favorite concoction, lemonade and iced tea, at a restaurant. A woman heard his order and said she would have the same thing. And at that moment, the “Arnold Palmer” was born.
Said Nicklaus: “Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon, and a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself. We were great competitors who loved competing against each other, but we were always great friends along the way. Arnold always had my back, and I had his. We were always there for each other. That never changed.
“He was the king of our sport and always will be.”
Details on a memorial service and burial will come later.