The King and his people
You know how big a person is when Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are in the supporting cast.
That’s Arnold Palmer.
The King died Sunday at the age of 87.
He brought golf to the masses in a way no one else has ever done.
He’s the one who allowed PGA Tour players to play for more money.
Palmer was the first golfer who would play offensive golf — going for par 5 greens in two, hitting at any flagstick.
He was Phil Mickelson long before Phil Mickelson.
Palmer was an icon beyond icons.
We tend to surround ourselves with people who help us be the best we can be or tear us down.
Everything I have read and listened to about Arnie is that he always was the one to help make people the best they can be.
Jack Nicklaus said on the Golf Channel Monday morning, “Arnold would’ve rather gone to a cocktail party with 100 strangers than dinner with two friends. That was him.”
I got home Sunday night about midnight and watched the Golf Channel for 90 minutes and heard Rocco Mediate, Brad Faxon, Dan Hicks, Nancy Lopez and Jim Nantz all give Arnold stories, as did Frank Nobilo, Tom Rosaforte and Mark Rolfing.
To a person, they all talked about a love for Palmer.
Palmer was a person who transcended the game.
He made the game the game.
He made the masses love the game and love him.
Not every person, let alone every professional golfer or athlete, can say that.
Faxon told a story about how Palmer told him that every time he signed an autograph, to look the person in the eye and not look down. He also told Faxon that his autography must be legible and easy to read.
Lopez said the same thing.
She said Palmer once looked at her autograph and approved because it was easy to read her signature.
No one becomes great on their own.
Neither did Palmer.
That was done because of his upbringing at Latrobe Country Club.
It was because of his parents.
Palmer helped others become great.
Everyone has talked about Palmer in complete reverence.
He will be the most important golfer of all time.
Yes, Jack and Tiger won more.
But, they didn’t bring the game to millions.
They didn’t have his personality.
They didn’t have his persona.
They didn’t have that hitch and swashbuckling attitude.
They didn’t have his generosity.
They didn’t revolutionize business the way he did.
They weren’t pioneers.
The tributes will continue this week as the golfing world is in Chaska, Minn., for the Ryder Cup.
Palmer was 22-8-2 in his six Ryder Cups.
He won 29 times on Tour from 1960-63.
He birdied the 17th and 18th hole at Augusta National to win the Masters in 1960.
He followed that up by coming from seven shots down on Sunday to win the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills.
Palmer was magic inside and outside the ropes.
But, what drove him was winning.
After all, you play the game to win.
Palmer did that.
Palmer’s first win was the 1955 Canadian Open, garnering him a $2,400 check.
That 1960 year, he made the trip to the Open Championship, something few Americans were doing at the time.
He finished second, the won the tournament in 1961 and 1962.
In the majors from 1960-64, Arnie had six wins, five seconds and four other top-10s.
That was unheard of back then.
Of course, Nicklaus and Woods eventually passed him, but he set the standard.
The one major Palmer didn’t win was the PGA Championship, where he finished second in 1964, 1968 and 1970.
He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, the first golfer to have that distinction.
Palmer was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
Arnie made $1,861,857 in 734 career PGA Tour starts during 53 years.
That would have placed him 53rd on this year’s PGA Tour money list.
There is a certain connotation when people say someone is unique.
He drew to people, especially people he didn’t know, like a moth to a flame.
Arnold Palmer was unique and there will never be another one like him.
(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @HSDTsports)