Arnold Palmer: The King of kings

Others may have won more majors, but Arnold Palmer won the most hearts among golf fans. Bill Fields pays tribute to a sporting icon who was a champion and a pioneer.

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When Arnold Palmer signed his name, the large ‘A’ and the ‘P’ were accompanied by neat lowercase letters that came after the capitals like well-mannered children walking behind their parents. Although his famous signature got a little smaller as he aged, it would satisfy the most demanding teacher presiding over a class of pupils learning joined-up handwriting. What’s the point in giving someone an autograph, Palmer implored professional golfers of subsequent generations, if it isn’t legible?

Palmer signed hundreds of times most days for decades, the care he took in his penmanship a metaphor for how he felt about the people on the other side of the gallery ropes. “I don’t know that he patterned himself after anybody,” his long-time assistant and friend Doc Giffin said. “It was pretty much human nature. He did it because it was the right thing to do.”

On September 25, when Palmer died from complications of heart problems at age 87 in a Pittsburgh hospital not far from his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, golf lost arguably its most important figure. He was a man who carried golf into a new era on broad shoulders and narrow hips, his natural charisma and bold playing style connecting powerfully with people whether they were actually at a tournament or watching on television, a medium that came of age with Palmer and was a crucial ingredient as he lifted the sport “to newfound visibility and popularity”, in the words of…

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