Monday, September 26, 2016

Long Live The King

As a lover of all things involving golf, it's a tough day following the death of Arnold Palmer.  Everything that is the sport today: TV coverage, corporate sponsorship, big money prizes and the Golf Channel can all be directly connected to Arnie. 

He was the sport's first TV star.  The cool persona, the muscular build, and the wry smile were made for the growing medium in the 1950's and '60's.  And his "go for broke" style of play made for some very dramatic Sunday afternoons for fans.

Arnold was also the first golfer to get big-time endorsement deals.  He formed a marketing company to control his image and to sell himself to consumers.  I can still remember the commercials for Pennzoil where he was sitting on the tractor his dad used to maintain Latrobe Country Club and Arnie sold Mercury and Cadillac automobiles--along with Hertz rental cars.  Even into his 80's--more than 20-years after his playing career was over--Arnie still starred in prescription drug commercials with modern day athletes.  And of course, the incredibly refreshing summertime drink--The Arnold Palmer, half-lemonade, half-sweet tea--bears his name and likeness on cans and bottles.

Palmer was also the first player to become a famed golf course architect.  I've played several of Arnie's courses in Wisconsin, Florida and Hawaii.  And his usual design was meant to be a challenge for very good golfers--but not so impossibly tough that someone new to the game would get discouraged and want to quit.

And it was Arnie that was willing to lend his name and his cash to a little startup operation called The Golf Channel.  An unheard of idea that people would want to watch a network devoted exclusively to just one sport.  Now of course, you have the Tennis Channel, the MLB Network, the NFL Network, the NHL Network and NBA TV--not to mention channels dedicated exclusively to motor sports and extreme sports.

They called Arnie "The King" and proof of that can be found in Golf Digest's annual list of the highest-paid golfers--where Palmer ranked 5th in 2015--making $40-MILLION--without even swinging a golf club.

But the greatest thing about Arnold Palmer can be found in a barn in his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  Inside are thousands of boxes containing every single letter sent to him by fans.  And each of those letters was responded to with a personal letter from Arnie--signed (in his perfectly-legible signature) by the man himself.

On Wednesday, I will be leaving for the Ryder Cup in the Twin Cities.  I hope that the event will feature a memorial to the man who built the modern game of golf.  The players can honor Arnie by making sure their hats are off anytime they are inside (one of Palmer's biggest pet peeves).  And while there's not any rain in the forecast right now, I hope a quick shower passes through Hazeltine Country Club Sunday afternoon--just so a rainbow can form over the greatest event in the sport.  It would be a fitting tribute.

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