Palmer was the son of a greenskeeper, and his father started him early in the game. As a teen, Palmer won five West Penn Amateur Championships. He played collegiately at Wake Forest, but gave up the game for several years when he joined the Coast Guard. He returned to golf in the early 1950s, and eventually won the 1954 U.S. Amateur. He turned pro five months later. Palmer led the PGA Tour in wins with four in 1957, then exploded in 1958 with his first major, the Masters Tournament. Palmer’s swashbuckling, go-for-broke style, combined with an aggressive, unorthodox swing, plus movie-star looks and charisma, immediately made him a star. He didn’t disappoint, dominating the PGA Tour into the early 1960s. In 1960, he won 8 times including the Masters and U.S. Open. At the Open, he made up seven strokes in the final round to win. In 1962, he had another 8 wins, including the Masters and British Open.
From 1957 to 1963, Palmer led the Tour in wins five times and money four times. He won four scoring titles, the last in 1967. Palmer won seven majors, all of them from 1958 to 1964, and was the first 4-time winner of the Masters. His last big year on the PGA Tour was 1971, when he won four times. The last of his 62 PGA Tour wins came in 1973, but his popularity never waned. It surged again in 1980 when Palmer joined the Champions Tour, and once again helped popularize a golf tour.
Off the course, Palmer built a business empire that included golf academies, tournament and course management companies, equipment companies, clothing lines and more. He co-founded The Golf Channel. Palmer’s endorsement deals alone kept him one of sport’s annual richest athletes into his 70s.
Palmer first visited Bay Hill Club and Lodge (see photos) near Orlando, Fla., in 1965, made his winter home there, and became owner of the club in 1975. In 1979, Palmer began hosting a PGA Tour event there, and today that tournament is known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Arnold Palmer was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
Arnold Palmer: “I never quit trying. I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win.”
Broadcaster Vin Scully: “In a sport that was high society, he made it ‘High Noon.’ ”
Jack Nicklaus: “Arnold is the reason golf enjoys the popularity it does today. He … made golf attractive to the television-viewing public. There never has been anyone like him before in the game of golf, and there probably won’t be another like him again.”
Palmer has a beverage named after him: the “Arnold Palmer,” of course. See Arnold Palmer Drink for details.