The man who started it all

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The golf world was saddened to hear about the passing of Arnold Palmer on Sunday. The impact that Palmer had on the growth of golf and his connection to golf fans around the world was extraordinary. In your mind, what defines Palmer’s legacy?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Arnold’s legacy is, simply, where the professional game is today.  The staggering wealth of today’s players, the prize money, the TV coverage (network and Golf Channel), the endorsements, the equipment companies, the stunning golf developments around the world… all of this can be traced back to the explosion of the game that occurred in conjunction with, and because of, the arrival of Arnold Palmer in the late 1950s.  But on top of all that, to me Arnold’s greatest legacy was the sense of good sportsmanship, good manners, and responsibility to fans that professional golfers, more than any other athletes, have exemplified because of his singular example.  Bobby Jones was a great gentleman amateur, and Hogan a great player, but no one elevated the status and respect for the professional golfer like Arnold Palmer.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Arnie was the everyman’s bridge to a snobbish, elitist game who made it seem accessible to everyone. It still isn’t, but he made it seem so. In that black and white world where TV coverage started at the 16th tee, Arnie was a Saturday and Sunday afternoon superhero. There is a direct line from Arnie making golf must-see TV and Rory cashing in $11.5 million at East Lake. Every modern day Tour player should tithe to one of The King’s charitable agencies.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): It’s hard to think about any aspect of golf that hasn’t been directly influenced by Arnold Palmer.  He attracted a generation of people to the sport that previously had no interest; he was one of the first athletes that was bigger than the sport that he played; he essentially paved the way for sponsorships and athlete branding as we know it today.  However, I think what will define his legacy the most is his philanthropy, specifically The Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, and the Arnold Palmer Medical Center Foundation.  At the end of the day, golf is just a silly game that is played with sticks. Palmer’s donations and contributions to society have made countless young lives better and healthier!

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I just love the way he conducted himself in and around the game and life in general. I’ve said this a few times, but other than Jack Nicklaus at the moment, I look 10, 20, 30 years from now and wonder who golf’s ambassador will be, and will he or she be even remotely as respected as Arnie? If so, name them, because I don’t come up with a single name at the moment that is in the same class. Long after we’re all gone, his legacy will live on through his family, and charitable contributions. That or quenching the thirst of millions with his delicious concoction, Iced Tea and Lemonade. Who knew?

Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: Palmer’s legacy will be defined in many ways I believe. One from the pro perspective where the players view him as the person responsible for making golf what it is today and allowing them to play for the types of purses they do. Another will be a general perspective which sees The King as a larger than life individual who was great with the fans and one of the best golfers to ever live. Yet another will be as an athlete who cared about people and gave back in every way he could.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): I think it can best be described as Palmer’s pure love of golf. He competed to win and he did amass a fortune that stemmed from his celebrity but you get the feeling that all of that was incidental to the joy he got from just playing golf and connecting with others who felt the same way. I can only think of one incident in his life when Palmer was openly criticized by the golf community and that was when he touted the non-conforming Callaway ERC II driver. Some people suggested he was advocating cheating but I suspect in his mind he was just trying to help people enjoy the game more.

Do you have a favourite Arnold Palmer story or experience?

Deeks: My Fairways blog this week (HERE) pretty much answers that question. But here’s another that I just heard today in response to posting my blog on Facebook. Chris Smith, a former Captain at Carnoustie, tells me that, for decades, Arnold has sent a personal cheque to his former British Open caddy, Tip Anderson, every month, presumably since the 1960s. No idea how much, but you can bet it’s not £20. Also, despite being an Honorary Life Member at Carnoustie, Arnold used to pay his dues every year. I read somewhere today that his personal net worth was about $675million but I bet he gave away half as much during his lifetime.

Kaplan: I was born 14 years after Palmer won his last tournament so I don’t really have any experiences with the King, but my favourite story about him is when he won the Canadian Open at Weston GC in 1955.  Palmer was so short on funds that he camped out on the property, behind the superintendent’s shed, for the duration of the week and still won.  It was the first PGA Tour victory of Palmer’s career and it happened here in Toronto!

Loughry: I never met the man, but whenever a bit came on TV or I came across an article, I watch or read it start to finish.

Quinn:  I just remember that when Arnie was in his prime, me and my fellow junior members took to wearing cardigans with the bottom two buttons undone and the sleeves pushed back. And we smoked cigarettes, flicking them away after lining up a putt and stepping in to strike it. When I finally quit smoking, I turned down games for months thinking I couldn’t putt without doing the Arnie butt flick that was vital to my routine. After all these years, turns out I was right.

Mastroianni: I don’t have any direct experiences with Arnold, but what I can say is he was one of three golfers (Lee Trevino and Chi Chi are the others) who really got me excited about the game. The way they went around the golf course, interacted with fans and made the game seem fun was what made me want to play golf, and that’s something Arnold did time and time again.

Mumford: Regrettably, I never met Arnold Palmer but know plenty of people who did. Unfailingly, they all talk about what a warm engaging man he was and how he made everyone he talked to feel special – like they were the only one in the room. Friends of mine were playing Bay Hill a few years ago and stopped after nine holes to grab some refreshments. One of them asked the waitress if Arnold was at the Club, not really expecting anything. She said he was and a few minutes later Palmer came out to the patio and took photos and chatted with the group. It was the highlight of their trip!

Rory McIlroy won the Tour Championship on Sunday and heads into the Ryder Cup with all sorts of confidence and momentum. Meanwhile Davis Love added Tour Championship runner-up Ryan Moore to the US squad with his final captain’s pick and has declared that it’s the “best team ever assembled!” Is Love correct about his team and do you think they’ll beat the Europeans this weekend at Hazeltine?

Deeks: Yes, I think so on both counts.  And while I always root for the Euros (like most Canadians, I think), I’m actually hoping that the US wins this Ryder Cup.  I think a US victory is needed, to maintain the parity and credibility of the competition.

Quinn: Once the captain has selected the shirts (remember Crenshaw’s stomach turning fashion tastes?) and made his player picks, his job is done. The rest of the time it’s driving around in a cart wearing an earplug and yakking into a walkie talkie about stuff that every TV viewer has already seen and he has absolutely no control over. It is, after all, golf. So Love 3’s  bluster about ‘best-ever’ is just Knute Rockne stupid. The Yanks have everything in their favour (favor?) at Hazeltine. Here’s hoping they blow it again.

Kaplan: No way!  It’s a strong roster but it’s nowhere close to the best American squad ever assembled.  How can you possibly say that when none of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Lanny Watkins or Tiger Woods is on the roster?  DL3 is just saying that to give his boys a vote of confidence, something that the American team direly needs if they actually plan on winning for once.  I don’t think they will but I want them too. However, they have only won two of the last ten Ryder Cups and Europe has their number at this point.

Loughry: Rory saved his season, even though Major-less, it sets him up for a nice Ryder Cup.  I still think the Euro’s are favourites, they just seem to have this TEAM thing figured out. We’ll see if this task force Team USA put together has any merit to it. Announcing the last team member on the verge of Ryder Cup week doesn’t make much sense to me, but they made a good choice. Moore is a grinder.

Mastroianni: The Europeans will win. The U.S. team is never the best team assembled because they don’t know how to win regardless of what’s on paper. If they happen to win this week, it’s a fluke.

Mumford: Obviously, Davis Love isn’t much of a golf historian. The 1981 American Ryder Cup squad that played at Walton Heath featured 10 future Hall of Famers including Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Raymond Floyd, Larry Nelson, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Jerry Pate, Johnny Miller and Lee Trevino. Including the other two players on that team (Bill Rogers and Bruce Lietzke), they also combined for 49 majors and 293 PGA Tour wins. The current American squad has lots of potential but is years away from any valid comparison. Having said that, the 2016 US team does look pretty strong and the next American Ryder Cup Gold Ribbon Task Force will be greatly perplexed as to why they lost to the Europeans at Hazeltine.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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