His knock-kneed, pigeon-toed stance would never be found in a primer on classic putting style. The barely controlled mayhem of his golf swing, full of homemade confidence, was hardened by constant practice and steely resolve.
His father, Milfred “Deacon” Palmer, worked with his hands. He helped build Latrobe Country Club’s original nine holes, eventually becoming greenkeeper in 1926 and greenkeeper/head pro in 1932. His family lived off the sixth hole, but the Palmers were workers, not members.
The oldest son of the household, Arnold, got right to work, as well. He caddied, cut grass and helped build the second nine. He worked in the pro shop. He played with the caddies and worked on his game when everyone else had gone home. He worked for the men and women who belonged to Latrobe Country Club, which helped him fine-tune the natural “do unto others” sensibility he inherited from his mother, Doris.
That’s why golf mattered. The ball and club didn’t know your station in life. The Rules applied to everyone. Etiquette, above all else, created order. He knew the right thing to do, always, and pledged never to forget it when he became successful and was on the other side of the bag.
Success, and tragedy, surely did come. From high school state championships to starring for Wake Forest University; from the death of his dear friend, Bud Worsham, to the 1954 U.S. Amateur, which propelled young Arnold, then a reluctant paint salesman, to give professional golf a whirl.
His accomplishments are many: Seven major titles, including the 1960 U.S. Open; 62 wins on the PGA Tour – 95 total professional wins – and 10 more on the PGA Tour Champions, including the 1981 U.S. Senior Open. He is one of only two players to win the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Open, and the U.S. Senior Open, along with Jack Nicklaus. But it was how Palmer won, how he looked, and what he meant to an “Army” he would lead for more than 50 years.
He had Popeye’s forearms, MGM’s leading-man looks, Deacon’s work ethic, Doris’ charm. But most of all, he had the indescribable “it” that the new medium of television lassoed and rode for five decades. In glorious victory or spectacular losses, Arnold was always Arnold and the world swooned. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him. He was golf, for everyone.