Arnie’s Army has lost their leader.
Arnold Palmer died Sunday at the age of 87. Palmer had suffered complications from heart problems.
Palmer, a popular charismatic golfer known as ‘The King’ accumulated 62 career victories on the PGA Tour including seven major championships, died at UPMC Hospital in Pittsburgh, near his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
He is survived by his second wife, Kit, his two daughters, six grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
Palmer attracted thousands of diehard fans known as “Arnie’s army” and helped to promote the game into the television age.
The US Golf Association called him “golf’s greatest ambassador”.
“If it wasn’t for Arnold, golf wouldn’t be as popular as it is now,” Tiger Woods said in 2004 when Palmer played in his last Masters. “He’s the one who basically brought it to the forefront on TV. If it wasn’t for him and his excitement, his flair, the way he played, golf probably would not have had that type of excitement. And that’s why he’s the king.”
That was a sentiment agreed to by many, including Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour, who said late Sunday: “It is not an exaggeration to say there would be no modern-day PGA Tour without Arnold Palmer.”
Palmer formed the fabled ‘Big Three’ along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
In a note posted to Twitter on Sunday, Nicklaus called Palmer one of his best friends, saying they last spoke on Palmer’s birthday, Sept. 10.
“Arnold transcended the game of golf. 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,” Nicklaus said in a statement.
U.S. President Barack Obama took time to remember Palmer, tweeting a picture of his putting in the Oval Office as Palmer looked on.
“Here’s to The King who was as extraordinary on the links as he was generous to others,” the president said. “Thanks for the memories, Arnold.”
Here's to The King who was as extraordinary on the links as he was generous to others. Thanks for the memories, Arnold. pic.twitter.com/UlyfpIBOL2
— President Obama (@POTUS) September 26, 2016
Palmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012.
Former President George W. Bush, who presented him the Presidential Medal in 2004, said in a statement: “He was a great American whose friendship – and swing thoughts – will be missed.”
Palmer was the first golfer to make $1 million from playing the sport.
GQ Magazine named him one of the “50 most stylish men of the past 50 years” and Esquire had him in a list of the “75 best-dressed men of all time.”
At a time when some professional golfers were still tooling around the course in plus-fours, Palmer popularized a modern, exciting form of golf on the edge, often scrambling to save par or even come in under par after having driven off-line into the woods or a bunker.
Palmer played at least one PGA Tour event every season for 52 consecutive years, ending with the 2004 Masters. He spearheaded the growth of the 50-and-older Champions Tour, winning 10 times and drawing some of the biggest crowds.
He was as successful on the course as he was off of it.
He was principal owner of the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla., where the elite Arnold Palmer Invitational is held, as well as the famed Pebble Beach golf complex in Monterey, Calif., which he bought with investors.
He co-founded the Golf Channel, which was acquired by Comcast in 2000 and is now part of the NBC Sports Group, and Arizona Iced Tea began selling his favorite drink — the Arnold Palmer, half-tea, half-lemonade.