Palmer a superstar on and beyond the golf course

Anti-clockwise from above: Arnold Palmer playing in Augusta, Georgia, in 2008; Harrison, New York, in 1971; and East Norwich, New York, in 1958. Popularly known as The King, he was one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport
Arnold Palmer playing in Augusta, Georgia, in 2008 (above); Harrison, New York, in 1971; and East Norwich, New York, in 1958. Popularly known as The King, he was one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport accessible to a much wider audience.PHOTOS: REUTERS, NYTIMES
Anti-clockwise from above: Arnold Palmer playing in Augusta, Georgia, in 2008; Harrison, New York, in 1971; and East Norwich, New York, in 1958. Popularly known as The King, he was one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport
Arnold Palmer playing in Augusta, Georgia, in 2008; Harrison, New York, in 1971 (above); and East Norwich, New York, in 1958. Popularly known as The King, he was one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport accessible to a much wider audience.PHOTOS: REUTERS, NYTIMES
Anti-clockwise from above: Arnold Palmer playing in Augusta, Georgia, in 2008; Harrison, New York, in 1971; and East Norwich, New York, in 1958. Popularly known as The King, he was one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport
Arnold Palmer playing in Augusta, Georgia, in 2008; Harrison, New York, in 1971; and East Norwich, New York, in 1958 (above). Popularly known as The King, he was one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport accessible to a much wider audience.PHOTOS: REUTERS, NYTIMES

Seven-time Major winner who brought the sport to the masses has died, aged 87

WASHINGTON • Arnold Palmer, the American golfer regarded as one of the greatest sporting personalities of all time, has died, aged 87.

Credited with bringing golf to the masses in the early years of televised sport, the seven-time Major winner won affection across the globe for his charm and common touch.

Palmer's longtime assistant Doc Griffin confirmed that the player, known as "The King", died at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday.

No cause of death was immediately given, although the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that he had undergone cardiac tests.

"We just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports," 18-time Major champion Jack Nicklaus said.

"He had always been a fighter and he never gave up on anything. He didn't give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold's will and spirit did not."

A FIGHTER

We just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports. He had always been a fighter and he never gave up on anything. He didn't give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold's will and spirit did not.

JACK NICKLAUS, an 18-time Major champion.

A FRIEND

Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs. It's hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King.

TIGER WOODS, on Palmer, whose rise set the stage for the sport's huge broadcast rights fees and prize money riches.

Palmer captured seven Majors during his illustrious career, taking the Masters four times (in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964), the British Open twice (in 1961 and 1962) and the US Open once (in 1960).

His go-for-broke style, raw athleticism and unorthodox swing enthralled fans, and he became one of golf's first television superstars, helping to make the sport accessible to a much wider audience.

His rise - along with that of Nicklaus and Gary Player - set the stage for the sport's huge broadcast rights fees and prize money riches, which were later enhanced by the success of Tiger Woods.

"Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs," Woods said on Twitter. "It's hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King."

Beyond his sporting achievements, as fine as any in professional golf, Palmer was a mainstay of American popular culture in the mid-20th century.

He may have been the only man to have both an airport and a drink named after him.

His commercial nous opened lucrative revenue streams which continued beyond his playing days: He was still among the world's best paid golfers in the 2000s, four decades from his heyday.

Pioneering sports agent Mark McCormack, who made Palmer his first client in 1960, put his marketability down to five things: good looks, affability, a humble background, his emotional accessibility and his starring role in early televised tournaments.

Born on Sept 10, 1929, in Youngstown, Pennsylvania, and raised in nearby Latrobe, Palmer learnt golf from his father. He was three years old when he was handed a cut-down women's golf club and ordered to "hit it hard, boy".

And so he did.

Former US president George W. Bush, who awarded Palmer the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, said that to golf lovers, "there has never been a sight quite like Arnold Palmer walking down the fairway towards the 18th green".

In 2012, Palmer was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, landing him both of the highest honours the United States can give to a civilian.

"Here's to The King who was as extraordinary on the links as he was generous to others," US President Barack Obama tweeted, along with a picture of Palmer giving him a golf lesson in the Oval Office. "Thanks for the memories, Arnold."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

SEE SPORTS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 27, 2016, with the headline 'Palmer a superstar on and beyond the golf course'. Print Edition | Subscribe