Arnold Palmer: Keep the legacy in perpetuity
Originally posted March 5, 2017:
There’s a short list building for Golf Personalities of 2017—Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson among the leaders—but one of the prime candidates won’t be seen or heard from in person. And there’s great potential for him to be on the list for many years to come despite his absence.
The personality? Arnold Palmer. Not yet a half-year removed from his September 25 death at age 87, the golf community is in the early stages of understanding what Arnie’s void will mean for the game. More than any other golf legend who has left us, it will be interesting to see how golf progresses without him and how strong Palmer’s legacy as someone who cared deeply about the game’s health will remain for years to come.
The older you are as a Palmer devotee the more likely you are to feel he’s eternal, with no chance of his persona slipping from the occasional reference or the example he led as a professional golfer and how to be a fan favorite held up as the ultimate example for young players. A video of Palmer describing how to conduct oneself on tour should be handed to every new tour player as SOP; there certainly must be miles of film quoting his thoughts.
I started playing golf in the early 1970s, right at the end of his winning years on the PGA Tour. I was in eighth grade and out with my buddies on the night he won his final tour event in 1973, the Bob Hope Classic. The autographed photo you see on my home page and the letter he wrote to me played a strong role in me wanting to play the game. The first time I saw him in person was at the senior Commemorative event in the mid-1980s at Newport Country Club. And what a sight: He was on the par-3 fourth, Graves Point, standing on the tee with the Atlantic Ocean in the background. I never got to shake the hand that people said swallowed up yours, but I was within handshake distance of him at a Gold Tee Dinner among a crowd of people and asked him to sign a program cover (I know, a no-no for media) that had images of him, Jack and Barbara Nicklaus and Hale Irwin on it. Got the other three too.
The younger a golf fan is, the more likely Arnold Palmer’s hold will fade on them, and that is sad if true. We are several weeks past one of Palmer’s prominent and regular tour involvements with the Hope tournament, now known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, being played in January. Soon upon us will be two larger moments that will remind us again of his passing and the emptiness the golf world will have to get used to: his Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard at Bay Hill March 16-19, and the Masters Tournament in April.
Thankfully, that younger golf fan will have plenty to keep Arnold Palmer front and center and grow his appreciation for him. It was announced recently that his memorabilia will be on display at various tournament locations. We can be assured, too, that CBS and the Masters will give Arnie his due every spring. He’s on the masters.com home page at the moment. And the news that Graeme McDowell, Annika Sorenstam, Curtis Strange, Peter Jacobsen and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge will fill in as Bay Hill hosts is an assuring sign that Arnold’s tournament will “do a Byron Nelson” and keep his name front and center and not do a Bob Hope and fade away.
Also encouraging: AP’s charity foundation will continue to do the good it has been doing, following the example Palmer started setting decades ago when he was the March of Dimes chairman. Visit arniesarmy.org to see the work being done.
Let’s all toast that the Palmer legacy endures in perpetuity, and let’s make the drink an Arnold Palmer.