On Arnold Palmer’s birthday we remember he was ‘The King’ of more than just golf

In every advertisement on television, your smart phone, or maybe the billboard heading into the city features a professional athlete. They are the ultimate spokespeople for companies – when you find the right athlete. The aroura surrounding these unique humans is, in fact, their un-human-like ability to perform feats of strength, agility, and speed.

The mystifying achievements of athletes are beyond comprehension for mere mortals, hence why the athlete is praised.

And the first person to tap into this goldmine of an industry was The King, Arnold Palmer, who would have turned 88 on Sunday. Everybody knows, and celebrates, his victories he attained on the course. But not many people highlight how he was a trailblazer for the sport of golf.

When Palmer was set to receive the Congressional Gold medal in 2012, his friend and enemy on the course, Jack Nicklaus shared an interesting statistic. He eluded to the fact that between the two of them, they had around $10 million in career earnings from playing golf – Nicklaus went on to say that today’s players make that in a season.

Palmer only made a measly $3.6 million from his professional golf career. But off the course, Palmer made an addition $875 million in endorsements and advertising deals. Some of the names ahead of Palmer include Tiger Woods, Lebron James, and Michael Jordan, who all have surpassed The King but have him to thank for starting this trend for professional athletes to get paid outside of their sport.

You see, Palmer was the model for all athletes who came after him in the sports advertising world. He exemplified your average American man who could have been your friendly neighbor. The type that would lend you some sugar or help change the oil in your car, and you knew the job would be done just right.

The earnings wouldn’t have happened without the help of Mark McCormack, who sought out Palmer as the perfect pitch man for this start-up company for representing athletes. Once McCormack and Palmer agreed to a contact, McCormack made Palmer rich and famous by capitalizing on the golfer’s persona and charisma, rather than his victories on the course.

Palmer loved life and was as genuine as they come, so it was easy to market that side of Palmer. In order to keep his client relevant, McCormack painted this picture that Palmer was a success not only on the course but as a human being in general. A champion of the people.

McCormack represented Palmer for over 40 years, as the duo built IMG into the top company for representing athletes in the modern day.

There was a Dick’s Sporting Goods advertisement which Palmer did a voice-over for, encouraging people to ‘swing their swing’. In the ad, he is quoted saying: “Perfect in its imperfection. Swing your swing…I know I did.”

The point is you don’t have to have the picture-perfect swing, as long as you get the golf ball from the tee box to the hole. That’s what Arnie was known for. He didn’t have Ben Hogan’s perfect swing, but he did have a perfect swing which suited him. And if you dig deep enough you too can find that perfect swing that is yours and only yours.

Arnold Palmer will always be celebrated in golf’s history. Not only for his 92 career wins and countless battles with Nicklaus on the course but for setting the table for athletes to become spokesmen.