Arnold Palmer: Golf’s Greatest Ambassador Left This World With More Than A Legacy

A legacy is something we all would like to have when we leave this earth. Not just any old legacy, but a powerful and positive one. Legacy’s true meaning is to denote how much money and possessions are left in one’s will. Golf’s greatest ambassador, Arnold Palmer certainly had a lot of that, but more importantly, he left with a different legacy: the richest fanbase in sports history.

There aren’t people out there who hated Arnold Palmer. How could they? The man was never involved in any scandals or never bad-mouthed fans and other players. On September 25, 2016, golf and the rest of the world lost a model citizen. His body was put to rest, but his legacy and cherished memories live on.

There was a story told recently about Palmer when he played in one of the U.S. Opens held at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia. He was smoking a cigarette, like he usually did, during one of the rounds and flicked the butt of the cigarette to the ground near the crowd. A lady in crowd scrambled to get the butt of cigarette and kept it in a box for years because she adored Palmer.

That is how beloved he was to his fans, who were better known as Arnie’s Army. An army that had troops stationed around the globe. Tournaments would be overtaken by the masses of his army out to support golf’s greatest ambassador.

By the end of his life, Palmer had amassed $875 million in off-the-course earnings and only $3.2 million compiled from his 92 professional victories. He earned that large sum of cash for his endless endorsement deals that people couldn’t get enough of.

Palmer sold everything from motor oil to golf equipment and everything in between. There was no need to portray him as your ‘friendly next door neighbor Arnold Palmer’ because that’s just who he was in reality. If Palmer was playing in today’s social-media-crazed world, there would be no need to put on a show for the cameras. He would just need to be himself and the people would follow.

It wasn’t like Palmer was on a mission to make golf popular and more-or-less become a legend in the process. He just played his game with his unique swing, which was not a Sam Snead textbook stroke. The scorecard never told us how Palmer won a championship or with what swing he used or what clubs he used. It only told us whether or not he won or not.

He was golf’s everyman because there is no ‘one swing’ for the masses. No one needs to have a certain swing to shoot below par. The only thing a person needs to do is play within golf’s rules and swing their swing. Palmer said it himself, that swings are perfect because of their imperfections. They are unique because it is tailored to a single person and formed by that person to suit their game.

Besides being golf’s everyman, no one was more meek and open to talk to than Palmer. It didn’t matter if you were a fan, a friend, a golfing opponent, or an elected official. He would treat you with respect of the highest class. For a man who was considered a champion and a legend, he never once acted like he was one. He even met with Antonio Brown, a wide receiver for the Steelers, right before he passed away and now Brown has had cleates made in Arnie Palmie’s honor.

Jim Nantz, who has covered the PGA Tour since 1986 for CBS, put Arnold Palmer’s life and golf career into pretty clear perspective. And he should know better than anyone since he had a front-row seat to Palmer’s life for a better part of three decades.

“He’s as big as it gets,” Nantz said. “And there are a lot of high-profile people, not just athletes but celebrities…stars who were pretty big. But hard to say anybody is bigger than AP.

“He’s been a dear friend and I treasure his friendship. His golf career has been over for a long time and it will always live on as a legendary career. But Arnold Palmer, the man, and how he treated people will live forever.”

Just like Michael Jordan did for basketball, Arnold Palmer paved the road for the generations that would follow. Players like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, and Jordan Spieth all benefited from the example that Palmer set.

He made the sport entertaining. He made it profitable. He made it what it is today. The fans, current players, and future PGA Tour card holders can thank Palmer for service to the game on the day we both mourn his death but celebrate his rich legacy.