Golfing Legend Arnold Palmer, who helped popularize and commercialize the sport in the 1960s, co-founded Golf Channel, and – yes – really did invent the drink named after him, died today. He was 87, and was reportedly in a Pittsburg hospital awaiting a planned heart surgery.
The news was made public by the United States Golfing Association, who tweeted condolences late this afternoon.
Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1929, Palmer learned golf from his father Milfred, a golf club groundskeeper who rose to become a club professional. He began his own pro golf career in 1955, rising quickly in the sport, and by 1960 he became the first client of groundbreaking sports agent Mark McCormack. Thanks to his skill at the game, natural charisma and relatively humble background compared to the much higher affluence of most golfers, Palmer became a popular public figure and by the early 1960s was professional golf’s first superstar. Along with his contemporaries Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, he’s credited with helping make golf one of the United States’ more popular professional games.
“Today marks the passing of an era. Arnold Palmer’s influence, profile and achievements spread far beyond the game of golf,” said Alastair Johnson, palmer’s longtime agent at IMG. “He was an iconic American who treated people with respect and warmth, and built a unique legacy through his ability to engage with fans.”
“Arnold Palmer set the standard for athletes in life and in business with his passion, charisma, and dedication. We will forever remember him as IMG’s first client and a man who profoundly shaped the modern-day sports industry” Ariel Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, co-CEOs of WME IMG said in a statement. “On behalf of all of our employees and partners, we send our deepest condolences to Arnold’s family, friends and fans.”
Between 1958 and 1964, Palmer won seven major golfing championships, played with six Ryder Cup teams (captaining the 1975 team), and among his other contributions to the sport is credited with popularizing competition in the British Open among American pro golfers. He continued to compete in golf until 2006, and was the sport’s most famous figure until the rise of Tiger Woods in the 1990s.
In addition to golf, Palmer had charitable endeavors and numerous successful business ventures, among them the ownership of several golf clubs (including his hometown club where his father once tended the grounds), as well as negotiating the deal to build China’s first golf course. He co-founded Golf Channel, which went on the air in 1995 as The Golf Channel, which is currently available in 79,250,000 households in the United States.
And as for the drink bearing his name? Palmer often drank the beverage, a 50/50 mix of lemonade and iced tea, at home, and inadvertently popularized it early in his career when, so the story goes, he ordered it at a club bar and another patron who overheard him asked the bartender for “that Palmer drink”. He would eventually capitalize on that as well, licensing his name and likeness to Innovative Flavors in 2001 for the establishment of the branded, packaged version of the Lemonade now sold in stores.
Palmer retired from golf in 2006. He was married twice, first to Winifred Walzer Palmer, from 1954 to her death in 1999, and then to Kathleen Gawthrop in 2005. He is survived by Gawthrop and other family members, including his grandson, fellow pro golfer Sam Saunders,