Why Arnold Palmer was never really 'The King'...

Why Arnold Palmer was never really 'The King'...

You may have never seen the dude hit a shot.

You may not have seen him win a golf tournament.

You may see him as the typical American country club old boy dressed in a polo and slacks sipping on an iced tea.

Chances are, dependent on your age, you were probably inspired to pick up a club because of Severiano Ballesteros, Tiger Woods or even Rory McIlroy.

But without Arnold Daniel Palmer we wouldn’t have had even one of them.

For before Seve showcased his swashbuckling style, flair and good looks on a golf course came Arnie trailblazing exactly that.

For before Tiger transcending the game, breaking down boundaries and introducing golf to a whole new person, it was Arnie who did exactly that.

And before the modern day superstar Rory McIlroy, with the huge endorsement deals and $10million Fed-Ex bonuses, it was Arnie who revolutionised the way athletes across all sports are paid. 

These are not exaggerations, these are facts, and everyone of any age or ability should be extremely grateful to the man they called 'The King' for this.

History maker

He was born in 1929 in a working class family, learnt golf from his father a head pro and greenkeeper and went on to win seven majors and 62 PGA Tour events.

But numbers and statistics are rarely what inspire people.

Just ask Jack Nicklaus, the most successful golfer of all time, who when competing against Palmer had the majority of people, ‘Arnie’s Army,’ against him too. 

They didn’t dislike Nicklaus, they loved Palmer.

His were a new type of golf fan, people from different backgrounds, who in a booming time in American history were inspired by this relatable guy who was the embodiment of 'The American Dream’.

To use modern parlance Arnold Palmer was cool as fuck.

He was ruggedly handsome, stylishly dressed and even flew his own plane between events! 

He’d take on risky shots that others wouldn’t and lost as many tournaments as he won but this gung-ho, carefree style, only made him more popular.

Human like the rest of us

And the man was far from a saint, he had the vices just like every man and woman in his army, whether they’d admit it or not, but somehow managed to either embrace or overcome them.

Shock horror the handsome, well dressed, rich and charismatic superstar dependent on who you ask was somewhere between an appreciator of women and a ‘top shagger’ to use the 2016 terminology, but still managed to hold down a 45 year marriage.

His wife Winnie even managed his cash because Arnie was bad with money. And yet Palmer’s partnership with Mark McCormack, the founder of IMG, revolutionised the way athletes made money. Despite his apparent lack of ability with money he amassed a fortune of $675million.

And despite one of his biggest rivals Gary Player waxing lyrical about fitness and clean living Palmer would smoke like a train and put his success down to drinking a lot of vodka. And yet, in true fashion, the ‘Arnold Palmer’ a soft drink mix of iced tea and lemonade became a cult and popular beverage across America, and still is to this day.

None of these things made sense.

Stay humble

But Palmer’s vices just added to his infectious charisma, humility and charm that made him seem more human, more relatable and more natural to the working man.

“I did that naturally,” he once said, “because my father told me, ‘Those people in the gallery are all the same as you.’”

And this was a philosophy he shared once with possibly the only golfer to match his super-stardom.

Tiger Woods had told Palmer he couldn't be a normal 21-year old because he had to sign autographs, talk to the media, do photo shoots for sponsors. 

"It just never ends," he said.

"You're right," Palmer replied. "Normal 21-year-olds don't have $50 million in the bank. If you want to be normal, give the money back."

The Legacy...

And that is why Arnold Palmer was never really ‘The King’.

A 'King' by right of birth rules over his people, sits on a throne, looks down upon them and elevates himself above his subjects in both status and believing in his superiority.

Palmer did none of these things. He was a self-made man of the people, admittedly an incredible and unique man of the people, but one nonetheless.

So when Palmer spoke, people listened and it resonated, because they knew he was one of them.

When he uttered the immortal quote: “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening - and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented,” every golfer from the Sunday hacker to Tiger Woods and every golfer in between could relate.

And this is something every professional athlete across the globe should take from this incredible man. To be themselves, embrace their vices, have fun and most importantly stay humble remembering where they came from.

It’s the least they can do, without the great man they simply would not be making the living they are today.

And the same note the same lessons can apply to every man, woman and child whether a golfer or not.

No matter your age, 14, 40 or 85, don’t think of the image of that old guy in the slacks, think of the man and what he was all about. Take something from that and an amazing man's legacy will live on forever.

The King may be dead. But long live The King.

I'm the Managing Editor at The Club. I like putting and Rioja. I dislike my low slice.