Augusta, United States (AFP) - Expect the Masters to pay tribute to golf icon Arnold Palmer next week when the first Major tournament since the legend's death at age 87 tees off at Augusta National.
Palmer died last September while awaiting heart surgery, just days before the United States reclaimed the Ryder Cup from Europe in a team victory dedicated to the golfing pioneer.
"Arnold meant an awful lot to every one of us," said four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy. "Anyone that is involved with the game of golf in any capacity."
Augusta National Golf Club chairman Billy Payne, in comments made shortly after Palmer's death, said this year's 81st Masters event would honor the seven-time Major champion, who collected green jackets in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.
"Arnold answered the calling for Masters greatness throughout his career," Payne said.
"The inspiration we drew from Arnold Palmer is what we celebrate now and forever. "We will do our very best to appropriately pay our respects to Arnold Palmer - a Masters legend, our game's finest ambassador and a hero to generations of people throughout the world,"
Payne said, adding, "We, his friends at Augusta National Golf Club, will always love him."
Palmer pioneered endorsement deals and television exposure, growing the sport's popularity with an everyman charm that endeared him to rivals and made him a role model for generations.
"He just made it a very popular sport among the average guy out there. I think he brought golf to the masses," reigning British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden said.
"He has meant so much to the game of golf. He will be dearly missed."
Palmer played for 50 years at the Masters before calling it quits in 2004, having taken his first and last Major titles at Augusta.
"He's going to be missed because he's a larger-than-life character," 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose said.
"Every encounter I had with him, he was warm... Arnie always put you at ease."
Australian Marc Leishman won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill two weeks ago, the first edition of the event since Palmer's death, and recalled his impact on players.
"He's someone that you look up to, not just in golf, but he has - well, they say 'a life well played,' because he lived his life to the fullest," Leishman said.
Northern Ireland star Graeme McDowell recalled Palmer's biggest contribution as simply being a solid role model.
"He treated people, and carried himself on so many different levels, the way we all aspire to. His personality was bigger than his golf in so many ways," McDowell said.
"There are just so many intangibles that as young players we can't really grasp because the world has changed so much in the last 20 years, but he laid down the foundations for a lot of the things that we know."
McDowell recalled meeting Palmer at Portrush at a Senior British Open and being mesmerised by his charm. "
He was the first golfing superstar, the first guy who was more than just a golfer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, all the things we try to emulate ourselves now," McDowell said.
"In a funny way, since his passing, we probably are getting a better education now as we feel everything he has done for the game. His legacy will be carried forward in so many different ways."
Nowhere was that more true than at Augusta, where he served as a ceremonial starter alongside his greatest rivals, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
"Arnold's bold and daring approach to the game, combined with his citizenship, warmth, humor, humility and grace, were truly the signature of the man," Payne said.
"His presence at Augusta will be sorely missed, but his impact on the Masters remains immeasurable - and it will never wane."
Palmer even hinted at his everlasting Masters legacy after his final competitive Augusta round in 2004.
"I don't think I could ever separate myself from this club and this tournament," Palmer said. "I may not be present, I may not be here, but I'll still be a part of what happens here."