By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
"In Arnold's early years, he was not a good driver. And he had to hit it out of the trees and out of the woods, and he kept making the shots. And people loved it because he won doing that."
-- Jack Nicklaus about Arnie Palmer on ESPN's SportsCentury show (Friday, July 2, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Palmer, the first to win four Masters titles and whose popularity spurred the golfing boom, was voted No. 29 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.
June 18, 1960 -- Palmer was mired in a tie for 15th place and seven strokes behind leader Mike Souchak after this morning's third round of the U.S. Open at the Cherry Hills Country Club, just outside Denver. In the locker room before the fourth round, Palmer's mind was on reaching the 346-yard first hole with one tremendous shot.
|Arnold Palmer, in endorsements alone, is still one of the best-paid athletes.|
"If I drive the green and get a birdie or an eagle, I might shoot a 65. What'll that do?" Palmer asked two writers/friends, Bob Drum of the Pittsburgh Press and Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.
"Nothing," said Drum. "You're too far back."
"It would give me 280," Palmer said. "Doesn't 280 always win the Open?"
"Yeah," laughed Drum. "When Hogan shoots it."
But it was Palmer who had the last laugh. He drove the first hole and birdied it. He birdied the next three holes as well and six of the first seven. His 30 on the front nine tied the Open record.
With two holes left, he was tied with legendary Ben Hogan, a four-time Open winner. But the 47-year-old Hawk found water on the final two holes, going four over par while Palmer parred them. Palmer finished with that 65 he had talked about and won his only U.S. Open with his 280. It was two strokes better than a 20-year-old amateur, some fat kid named Jack Nicklaus.
"On that afternoon, in the span of just 18 holes, we witnessed the arrival of Nicklaus, the coronation of Palmer and the end of Hogan," wrote Jenkins.
Odds and ends
At age seven, Palmer broke 100.
With 60 PGA Tour victories, Palmer ranks fourth all-time, behind Sam Snead (81), Nicklaus (70) and Hogan (63).
After winning the Masters and U.S. Open in 1960, Palmer's bid for the Grand Slam ended when he lost the British Open by one stroke to Kel Nagle at St. Andrews.
Palmer never finished worse than ninth at Augusta between 1958 and 1967.
Palmer's last tour victory was the 1973 Bob Hope Desert Classic, a tournament he won five times.
His best round on tour was a 62 -- at the 1959 Thunderbird Invitational and the 1966 Los Angeles Open. His best round ever was a 60 at his home Latrobe Country Club course in 1969.
Sports Illustrated once described Palmer as "combining the boldness of a Brink's bandit with the fearless confidence of a man on a flying trapeze. He doesn't play a golf course; he assaults it."
He holds the record for most Ryder Cup victories with 22. He's lost eight with two ties in his six competitions.
The term "Arnie's Army" was created by Johnny Hendrix in the Augusta Chronicle.
About Palmer and his army, George Plimpton once said, "Trying to follow Palmer down the course was not unlike running before the bulls at Pamplona."
In 1958, Palmer made $20,000 in endorsement and appearance money. The next year, he met a young Cleveland lawyer, Mark McCormack, whose financial acumen turned Palmer into a millionaire. By 1966, Palmer was president of his own company.
The Associated Press voted Palmer the "Athlete of the Decade" for the sixties, beating out such stars as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Brown and Sandy Koufax.
In 1971, Palmer bought the Latrobe Country Club course where his father once was head pro. Palmer's younger brother Jerry is the club's general manager. Arnie also is president and principal owner of the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., the site of an annual PGA Tour stop.
As a youngster, Palmer only was allowed on the Latrobe course (it was just nine holes then) in early morning or late afternoon, when the members weren't playing.
He has 10 victories on the Seniors Tour, with his last being the Crestar Classic in 1988. He also has won 19 international tournaments.
On Sept. 2 and 3, 1986, Palmer recorded holes-in-one on the same hole. He has 16 holes-in-one in his career, three in PGA Tour events.
Here's one way to measure Palmer's influence on the game: When he was born in 1929, there were more than 5,000 golf courses in America, and most were private. In 1960, when Palmer took over as the sport's reigning king, there were more than 6,000. In 1994, when Palmer was 65, there were 14,648, and more than half were open to the public.
Palmer is a co-founder of the Golf Channel, launched in 1995.
In 1999, Palmer, Clint Eastwood and Peter Ueberroth led a group that bought Pebble Beach for $820 million.
Palmer's popularity remains so immense that his endorsements and appearance fees still earn him close to $20 million annually.
Palmer proposed to his wife Winnie four days after meeting her at a tournament in 1954. They have two grown daughters, Peggy and Amy.