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Golfer Arnold Palmer, 80, remains a game-changer

September 10, 2009|Barry Stavro

Arnold Palmer turns 80 today, and for generations of golf fans, he's still "the King."

In the early 1960s, Palmer's magnetic personality and brash playing style lured new fans, fattened tour purses, boosted TV ratings and helped usher pro golf into the modern age. He drew huge throngs at tournaments that followed him en masse, the crowds so deep that many in his "Arnie's Army" relied on cardboard periscopes to watch him play.

His rivals, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, won more major tournaments; Palmer won over more fans.

Other pros were cautious, but Palmer played as if he were trying to score a first-round knockout. He drove greens, aimed for flags, charged putts, didn't lay up, and often won with drama in the final round.

"There always were conservative players, fairways-and-greens types," Palmer told the Wall Street Journal. "The spectators get a kick out of seeing a player take a shot, take a risk."

Palmer's popularity lifted the Masters, which he won four times, into elite status. He revived the British Open, a tournament most American pros used to skip because of its small purse and the high cost of travel. Palmer was captivated by its history, however, and after he won the British Open in 1961 and '62, other top American players followed him there each summer.

He became the first athlete to earn millions each year from endorsements, and had his own golf equipment and apparel line. Palmer also designed golf courses, bought courses, flew his jets to tournaments and promoted the sport worldwide.

Years ago, at the German Open, he was swarmed by autograph seekers. Bob Hammel told Golf Digest, "A member of his entourage came in to say that his private plane was ready to take off and they had to go. Arnie did not bat an eye but said, 'Have the plane wait; these are the people who pay for that plane.' "

Trivia time

Palmer lost in a playoff three times in five years at the same major tournament. Which one?

Points matter

Notre Dame football Coach Charlie Weis and his Michigan counterpart, Rich Rodriguez, are feeling the pressure from alumni after their disappointing seasons last year. On Saturday, Notre Dame plays at Michigan and the Irish are favored by three points, but that might not help Weis' squad.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in the last 20 Notre Dame-Michigan games, the favorite has covered the spread only three times.

Summer off

From David Letterman's "Top Ten Signs You Wasted Your Summer."

Reason No. 1: "You play for the Mets."

Trivia answer

The U.S. Open. Palmer lost 18-hole playoffs to Jack Nicklaus in 1962, Julius Boros in 1963 and Billy Casper in 1966.

And finally

According to GolfWorld, President Obama warned spectators before he teed off on Martha's Vineyard: "I just want to say ahead of time that I am terrible. Thank you."

--

barry.stavro@latimes.com

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