We golfers have lost our King, the one and only Arnold Palmer, who passed away Sunday at the age of 87.
Growing up in Latrobe, Pa. as the son of a greenskeeper and golf pro, he was one the "Big Three" with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Palmer wasn't the greatest golfer of all time, but like so many have already said, maybe the most important golfer of all time. With his good looks, swagger and brash style, he was certainly the most charismatic.
Followed by his fans, known as Arnie's Army, he loved them as much as they loved him. And every golfer can relate to his self-taught swing, ferocious will to win, immense contributions to charity and unending energy.
He and his company designed golf courses around the world, and he even had his own golf equipment company for a few years. He flew his own plane to tournaments and encouraged American golfers to make the trip across the pond. He's largely responsible for the Golf Channel and of course, Bay Hill and the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on the PGA Tour.
Of course, he may have left even a greater legacy in Orlando than Bay Hill with Arnold Palmer's Children's Hospital and Winnie Palmer Hospital for women and babies.
He came along in golf just as TV did, and his wins at the 1958 and 1960 Masters (his first two of four at Augusta National) catapulted the first major of the year to unprecedented popularity. Certainly, his success at the Open Championship (he won in 1961 and 1962) helped open up Scotland and Ireland as bucket-list destinations for American golfers.
I met Mr. Palmer several times. He inspired me to get my pilot's license in 1992. Flying myself to golf courses instead of driving to them seemed like the ultimate combination of two things I loved, just as Palmer did.
It seems every time I played or stayed at Bay Hill, he was there, either having breakfast or on the range. Golfers and golf fans would approach him there, and he never seemed to mind. That's what I knew about him; that he loved his fans to the end, about as much as they loved him.
I think I'll drink an Arnold Palmer today with lunch.
Golf Channel remembers Arnold Palmer
You can view more thoughts on Arnold Palmer from various icons in the game of golf by searching the "Arnold Palmer" tag on GolfChannel.com.