Arnold Palmer RIP. I remember where I was when I heard the news….

I was making the kid’s breakfast when it came over the newsfeed on Sky, Arnold Palmer has died of heart complications. I literally froze and felt a moment of unbelievable sadness. One of my heroes was dead. It was the same when my Father, Elvis, and Lady Diana Spencer died (By his bedside, In a car on Northaw Road, and by the pool on vacation in Javea, Spain respectively). Moments in time that are forever branded into the memory banks, unshakable images which will later be recalled at random future points in time, and then the memories come flooding back.

I was born too late to witness at first hand the rivalry between Jack Nicklaus and Arnie, but in the 60’s they were unquestionably the best two plays on earth. From 1962, when Nicklaus recorded his first win, through the end of the decade, they were virtually dead even in Tour wins (Nicklaus led, 30-29). Looking at 1962-64, the period bookended by Nicklaus’ first major and Palmer’s last, they won six of 12 majors (three apiece) and combined for five runner-up finishes.

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Arnold Palmer at the Par 3 Masters event

Arnold Palmer won many tournaments 7 major titles, 62 other victories on the PGA Tour (5th all time highest), twice on the European and Australasian tour, and last but not least 10 Senior Tour victories. However, many believe it was more than age that stopped Palmer from winning majors after the 1964 Masters. Confidence shaken by Nicklaus – and by Palmer’s blowing a seven-shot lead in the 1966 U.S. Open– is a popular theory, (my father often referred to this event as being the most astonishing collapse he had ever seen
right up until the point Greg Norman entered stage door left to steal that crown with his 1996 Masters meltdown last round against Faldo). I prefer to believe this story from Jaime Diaz, editor-in-chief of Golf World. “Arnold quit smoking in 1964. And Arnold, in his book, mentions how it changed his internal feelings and his ability to handle his nervousness. It just changed him a little bit, and at that level a little bit is a lot.

For me Arnie was the greatest golf ambassador to have ever lived. There was just something about his demeanour and character that made him so respectable. He was the consummate professional, always ferocious in attack yet gracious in defeat. He was someone to look up too, someone who inspired a generation, I loved the moment when after winning the 1986 Masters Jack Nicklaus received a telegram from Arnold which said:

“Jack, I think it was fantastic, congratulations. Arn,  P.S. Do you think there’s a chance for a 56 year old?”

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Nicklaus famously won the ’86 Masters at the record-breaking age of 46, claiming his 18th major title. Nicklaus became the oldest winner of the Masters and the second-oldest winner of a major championship. Of course the Golden Bear’s old rival would finish up his congratulations on this iconic moment with a cheeky question.

Jack and Arnie became great friends and I think it is worth repeating word for word Jack’s reaction to the great man passing, taken from his Facebook page. Says’ it all really….

“I just got the news at about 8:45 that Arnold had passed. I was shocked to hear that we lost a great friend—and that golf lost a great friend.

At this point I don’t know what happened, and I suppose it is not important what happened. What is important is that we just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports. My friend—many people’s friend—just wore out. I know he was in Pittsburgh trying to find out how to make himself better. That’s what Arnold has always tried to do. He has always been a fighter and he never gave up on anything. He didn’t give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold’s will and spirit did not.

I wish I had another chance to talk to him, but I am so glad we talked a couple weeks ago on his birthday (Sept. 10), when he sounded great. So Barbara and I are just in shock and incredibly saddened. Our hearts, thoughts, prayers and sympathies go out to Kit, his kids, grand-kids, great grandchildren, and his entire loving family.

He was one of my best friends, closest friends, and he was for a long, long time. I will miss him greatly.

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. Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans—Barbara and I among them. 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”.

For those of you who would be keen to read the best obituary I could find on Arnie, try the Guardian’s here: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/sep/26/arnold-palmer-obituaries

Arnie RIP, you legend!

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