Arnold Palmer decided to turn pro after winning the 1954 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club of Detroit. Call it a Samuel Adams. It was a great decision. Palmer would go on to win 62 PGA Tour events and seven major championships. He was the first man to win $100,000 in a season and was the first player ever to amass more than $1 million in career earnings. While Jack Nicklaus went on to have the better career with 18 major championships and 19 runner-ups, Palmer possessed at least four qualities that Nicklaus did not:
Palmer had charisma and style. He was the first superstar of the television age, which began in the 1950s. In the 1960 Masters, the “Palmer Charge” was born. Needing two birdies on the final two holes to beat Ken Venturi, Palmer holed a 35-foot putt on the Par 4 17th and then put a 6-iron five-feet from the hole on the Par 4 18th. Then six weeks later, seven shots off the lead entering the final round, Palmer lapped the 14 players in front of him for a seven-under-par 65 for a two-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus and a four-shot victory over the great Ben Hogan. Nicklaus was stoic. One writer called his expression a “state prison stare.”
Palmer was a man’s man. He was nicknamed “The King,” but he had a common man’s touch. When he stood on the tee, he made eye contact with the gallery. He made people feel like he was their best friend. He was from a working-class family in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, and he never forgot where he came from. Palmer’s humble background and plain-spoken popularity helped change the perception of golf from an elite, upper-class pastime to a more democratic sport accessible to middle America. Palmer wore his emotions on his sleeve, and his facial expressions were legendary. When he was happy, you knew it. When he was mad, you knew it. Oh, and he had an army of fans who felt every expression alongside him. Some said Nicklaus went about his business “with the plodding monotony of a mailman.”
Palmer made more money off the course then he did on it. With the help of his business manager Mark McCormack, Palmer built his brand into a multi-million-dollar empire. Among the products he endorsed: Cooper Tires, Lamkin Grips, Callaway, and EZ-GO. One of his most recent products is a beverage called the Arnold Palmer, a combination of sweet iced tea and lemonade, Palmer’s favorite combination. Palmer also helped found the Golf Channel.
Palmer secured the Status of the Open Championship. Despite the fact Ben Hogan won the Championship in 1953, few American golf professionals traveled across the pond to play in the Open because of travel time, the tournament’s small purse, and the style of the courses. McCormack convinced Palmer that his success at the Open would make him a global sports star and not just a great American golfer. McCormack was right.