Golf legend, hero Arnold Palmer passes away

In sports, there are many superstars, legends and heroes. In golf, there was the king: Arnold Palmer.

Palmer was one of the most important and special people in golf history. While he is not the greatest golfer of all time, he is perhaps the most important in making the sport what it is today.

Sadly, the great golf icon passed away the Sunday night of Sept. 25 at the age of 87.

“Today marks the passing of an era,” said Alastair Johnson, the CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises and Palmer’s longtime IMG agent.

The game’s greats spoke to Palmer’s impact on the sport as a whole.

“It’s hard to believe that Arnold has passed, and I’m deeply saddened by his loss,” said Tiger Woods in a statement. “He meant so much to the game and to me personally. I knew that I could always call him for advice, and I looked forward to seeing him at Bay Hill and the Masters.

“Arnold touched so many people. It was an honor and privilege to have known Arnold, and I’m forever grateful for his friendship.”

Characterized by his good looks, his genuine and kind personality and the fierce passion and flair that he played with, he changed the game of golf in a big way.

As Palmer began his golf career in 1955, so began the era of television as well as advertisement. There was no one better to represent the game of golf on a national stage.

His fearless approach, wildly elegant swing and ever-charm- ing smile quickly made him a fan favorite.

“When he hits the ball, the ground shakes,” golf great Gene Littler once said.

No true description could really do his powerful swing justice.

What really made Palmer fun to watch was the thrill of his daring shot-making abilities. He never shied away from aggression.

“You can make mistakes when you’re being conservative, so why not go for the hole?” said Palmer. “I always feel like I’m going to win, so I don’t feel like I’m gambling on a lot of shots that make other people feel I am.”

When he won, he won with exuberance, and when he did not, he lost in style.

Palmer won 62 times on the PGA Tour, the fifth most ever, and won seven majors. Most memorably, the U.S. Open in 1960 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado.

Seven shots behind the lead going into the final round, a reporter told him before the round began that he had no chance. Irritated, Palmer drove the 343-yard opening par-four to begin a streak of four consecutive birdies en route to a Sunday round of 65 and his third career major.

Palmer’s legacy shines beyond the lights of golf. He is referred to as a pioneer in sports marketing. He paved the path for all athletes to collect millions in endorsement deals.

He was the first-ever to earn a million dollars in earnings on the course, but even four decades later, he still ranked among the highest earnings in the sport.

His infamous mixed drink, half lemonade and half iced tea, can be ordered in bars and restaurants across the country regardless of the bartender’s knowledge of golf.

As much as anything, Arnold Palmer was a people person. He was notorious for endlessly signing autographs, taking pictures and talking with his fans known as “Arnie’s Army.” He was great friends with President Dwight D. Eisenhower and golfed with Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush.

He was not only the king of kings on the course but the king off of it too.

“Arnold transcended the game of golf,” said golf great Jack Nicklaus in a released statement. “He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself.

“Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans. We were great competitors, who loved competing against each other, but we were always great friends along the way. Arnold always had my back, and I had his. We were always there for each other. That never changed.

“He was the king of our sport and always will be.”