The Cut : The Cut - Summer 2017
24 THE CUT hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, golf lost arguably its most important figure. He was a man who carried golf into a new era on broad shoulders and narrow hips, his natural charisma and bold playing style connecting powerfully with people whether they were actually at a tournament or watching on television, a medium that came of age with Palmer and was a crucial ingredient as he lifted the sport “to newfound visibility and popularity”, in the words of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Numbers alone confirm Palmer as one of the best golfers ever. Only four players – Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan – won more PGA Tour events than Palmer’s 62 victories. And just six – Nicklaus, Woods, Walter Hagen, Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson – captured more professional majors than Palmer (see right). He won at least one PGA Tour event for 17 consecutive years (1955-1971), a record he shares with Nicklaus. Palmer won 10 tournaments on the Senior PGA Tour, five of them majors for the 50-and-older set. He and Nicklaus are the only golfers to have won the US Amateur, US Open and US Senior Open. But numbers only tell a smidgen of Palmer’s tale. It wasn’t so much about what he won but how he played and who he was. “He’s a hero,” his first wife, Winnie, who died of cancer in 1999, summed up, “a very reachable, touchable hero.” Professional golf was more cloakroom than ballroom when Palmer arrived on the scene in the mid-1950s, fresh off a victory in the 1954 US Amateur. Purses were meagre. First prize was $2,400 when Palmer won his first pro event, the 1955 Canadian Open. In 1958, when he won three times and finished in the top 10 in 14 of 31 starts, Palmer led the money list with $42,608. Most players still worked as club pros part of the year and supplemented their official tour earnings with winnings from practice-round money games. In part because it was difficult for many to make a decent living, the tour was populated with taciturn men. Colourful characters like Jimmy Demaret were in the minority. Because Ben Hogan, who went about his work with little outward joy and expressed himself with his scores, remained the playing standard at that time, many of those who idolised ‘The Hawk’ tended to deport themselves like him. “Most of the good players back then were stoic,” Don January, who turned pro in 1956, once recalled. “ They tried to hide their emotions. Arnold threw his out there for everybody to see. He’d hitch up his pants with his elbows. He’d hit and have that finish with everything twirling, and his nose would be snorting like a bull in heat.” Hogan and Palmer each had modest roots, smoked cigarettes, delivered the club for a crisp impact and were highly competitive, but that’s about where the similarities ended. Hogan was fairways and greens and smart golf; Palmer hit it Posing with Miss Golf during the 1958 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Arnold Palmer holds a winner’s cheque as he sits on the bumper of his car after a tournament in 1957.
The Cut - Spring 2016
The Cut - Autumn 2017