Palmer was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1929, and his father was the greenskeeper at the Latrobe Country Club. As a young man, Arnold Palmer learned how to golf while accompanying his father as he worked on the course at the country club, and he eventually got into college on a golf scholarship. He left school for a few years when he joined the Coast Guard, continuing to hone his skills when he had time, and in 1954 he won the United States Amateur Championship. This convinced him to give professional golfing a try, and just a year later, he won the Canadian Open. At 28, he won the 1958 Masters Tournament and basically never looked back, quickly becoming the face of America’s growing interest in golf.
People were drawn to Palmer’s affability and excitable nature on the course, and his appreciation for his fans in the gallery made him good for TV. His insistence on putting everything he had into every shot did as well, since it usually meant that you’d either see something masterful or something devastating—thankfully for Palmer, it was typically the former. Also, mostly due to Palmer’s popularity in the ‘60s, “the number of players in the U.S. doubled to 10 million and a new course in America was built just about every day for 10 straight years.” That’s according to The Hollywood Reporter, which notes that he “was Tiger Woods before Tiger Woods.”
Palmer won The Masters three more times, the U.S. Open once, and the British Open twice, and though he never won the PGA Championship, he won 62 times on the PGA Tour in his career. He also helped found The Golf Channel in 1995, which was the first cable network devoted solely to covering a single sport. He was also the first golfer to be awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom and the second golfer to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. Even outside of the golf world, everybody knows him as the namesake of the half-iced tea and half-lemonade Arnold Palmer drink. He was, essentially, the golf superstar.
Palmer is survived by his second wife, Kathleen Gawthrop, as well as two daughters and a grandson, Sam Saunders, who used to caddie for him and now plays on the PGA Tour himself.