I was filled with sadness when I learned of the death of Arnold Palmer. He was 87 years old. He was one of those figures you thought would live forever. My eyes welled up with tears as I watched news reports informing viewers of his passing. The man was an icon. He was a man who was larger than life. He defined the word “legend.” He was a hero of the everyday man.
My father being an avid golfer, I grew up watching Palmer play golf on TV. My father did not have many heroes, but Arnold Palmer was one of them. For my father all the world stopped when the King was playing golf. He was the honored guest in our home each weekend.
Palmer was a man’s man. His passion was contagious. People drew inspiration from his accomplishments. He captivated his fans with his amazing shots. You cheered when he was triumphant and heartbroken when he lost. He was not only a great golfer, but he was a great gentleman. Joyous in victory, he was always gracious in defeat.
Back in the mid-1990s when the Senior Tour came to Tanglewood in Winston-Salem I went to watch him play. For some four hours I was part of Arnie‘s Army. There were times that day I came within a few feet of him. I was in awe watching him swing a golf club. I was in awe of him period. I don’t remember what he shot that day. I didn’t care, for I was part of Arnie’s Army. I remember his broad shoulders and massive forearms. He was a Popeye come to life. Oh my how he could crush a drive. He possessed an air of confidence that was mixed with genuine humility. When he made a good shot the crowd would roar and he would acknowledge appreciation to his army with that trademark swashbuckling smile of his and an appreciative nod. I will forever be grateful I got to watch him at least once play golf.
Palmer reflected values and a character that many sport “stars” of today seem to be lacking. Unlike some of the selfish and spoiled-brat “stars” of today, Palmer realized golf would not be what it was without the fans, and he always sought to gratefully show his appreciation to them. He never lorded his greatness over others but made his fans feel they were responsible for and shared in whatever greatness he might have obtained. His charismatic personality endeared him to people of all walks of life. He was a man who could dine with queens and presidents, but was more at home with the common man. He never forgot his own humble beginnings, and identified with those who cheered for him on every swing.
Arnold Palmer transcended golf. His philanthropy was well known, as he gave to many charitable causes without fanfare and never for the sake of notoriety, but for the purpose of helping others who were less fortunate. He earned much and received much, but he, as well, gave much, much more back. It was said at the death of Julius Caesar, “We shall never see his like again.” That can be said of Arnold Palmer. He most certainly was the King who wore his crown well.
Another hero of the masses has gone to his reward. While those who grew up watching his memorable swing are saddened at his passing, there is thanksgiving in the heart for the privilege of having watched a giant of a man walk amongst us.