New bio on Arnie: Loving look at a man who enjoyed being loved
Check each week for book reviews at CliffSchrock.com. This week’s book is “Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer,” by Tom Callahan, Harper (imprint of HarperCollins), $27.99, hardback, 335 pages.
Palmer, Nicklaus, Jones, Woods, Player, Hogan, Snead—These golf legends have had the most written scrutiny about their lives. With the exception of Woods and Hogan, a lot of it has been autobiographical or with a ghostwriter.
In Arnold Palmer’s case, the books with his author’s name on them include Arnold Palmer’s Golf Book: Hit It Hard! (1961), My Game and Yours (1963), Portrait of a Professional Golfer (1964), The Arnold Palmer Method (1968), Situation Golf (1970), Go for Broke! My Philosophy of Winning Golf (1973), 495 Golf Lessons (1973), Arnold Palmer’s Best 54 Golf Holes (1977), Arnold Palmer’s Complete Book of Putting (1986), Play Great Golf: Mastering the Fundamentals of Your Game (1987), A Golfer’s Life (1999), Playing by the Rules (2002), Arnold Palmer: Memories, Stories, and Memorabilia from a Life On and Off the Course (2004), and A Life Well Played: My Stories (2016). All, in their own way, contribute to the Palmer story, archive and legacy.
But perspective and scope are gained when we can see someone’s life from another’s viewpoint, which is what we get with Tom Callahan’s new biography. (Full disclosure: This reviewer contributed the appendix.) The notable sports writer and biographer of Tiger and Earl Woods, Johnny Unitas and Sonny Liston, Callahan draws on his numerous meetings with Palmer, dating back to the early 1970s, to connect the dots in Arnie’s career. Callahan is one of the finest storytellers I’ve ever met, and it is his stories and anecdotes that drive this absorbing and reaffirming profile of one of sport’s greatest figures.
The mark of a captivating read is the connectedness from paragraph to paragraph; Arnie feels threaded from start to finish, so much so that it’s easy to get lost in the Palmer world that made him so appealing starting in the 1950s and the birth of television. The chapters are done in chronological style, beginning with 1960 first, when Callahan writes Palmer became Palmer. He then goes back to Palmer’s beginning and takes us all the way on a thrilling ride to the end with Palmer's death and memorial service last fall, taking a scenic tour of Arnie’s popular romp as golf hero.
Particularly charming is to read about the relationships Palmer had, not only with golf titans such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—The Big Three—but with the celebrity mix Arnie enjoyed from actors and business people to presidents, most notably Dwight Eisenhower. No other golfer enjoyed being who he was as much as Arnold Palmer and this bio delightfully shows how he loved his journey as it was even though he could have been more successful on the course if he’d devoted less time to off-course interests and paying attention to fans.
But all the joyful revelations about Palmer the King are offset by Callahan’s insights into some of the more salacious parts of Palmer’s life, among them the at-times testy rivalry with Nicklaus and the slowly-coming-to-light womanizing stories.
Callahan brings out the highlights of the many interviews he had with Palmer over the years, plus many discussions with other leading figures who “get a call”—a familiar phrase of his—in the book. The result is a book that is original and captivating, just like the subject himself.