Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer – hailed as a role model, an icon, and a gentleman – has died on what was already a sad day for the sports world.
Palmer died Sunday, September 25 “at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he had been since Thursday undergoing heart tests,” said The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper, adding that he died from an “aggregation of cardiological” issues.
His public memorial service was held October 4 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
You can watch it here:
How did Palmer die?
“Alastair Johnson, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, told The Associated Press that Palmer died Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh of complications from heart problems,” ABC News reported. “Johnson said Palmer was admitted to the hospital Thursday for some cardiovascular work and weakened over the last few days.”
Palmer was 87-years-old, said Golf Digest, which also confirmed the golfer’s death.
Arnold Palmer’s life was honored at the public memorial service at 11 a.m. October 4 at Saint Vincent College, said WTAE, and a private funeral was held September 29. Fans were also asked to show their respects by going to the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, the television station said.
Palmer’s funeral was private. A family spokesman said, according to Fox News, that the Palmer funeral was “pure family, direct relationships.”
After “Arnold Palmer’s family spread his ashes at his country club in Pennsylvania,” rainbows appeared over the Latrobe Country Club one hour before his funeral, said NBC Chicago.
Signs that Palmer’s health was starting to fail had been emerging for several years, but took on new poignancy at the Masters last spring, what would prove to be his last. The fact that he was frailer and couldn’t hit the ceremonial drive didn’t matter, not really. Palmer’s love of golf, his contribution to the sport, his desire to be out on the course, were all apparent. It was perhaps a final chance, in retrospect, for the sporting world to honor golfing’s great. He was still Arnold Palmer, the “King” of golf, as USA Today put it. In some ways, it was a last goodbye, Arnold Palmer standing side-by-side with Jack Nicklaus, wearing green at the Masters. For the last time.
“He has been in failing health since the fall of 2015 and made his last real public appearance on the first tee of the 2016 Masters, joining Nicklaus and long-time friend Gary Player for the ceremonial opening tee shots, even though Palmer did not hit a drive,” wrote the Post-Gazette.
In April, at the Masters, reported the Guardian, Palmer, whose health had “been in decline for some time,” stood “as an onlooker on the 1st tee here on Thursday morning rather than hitting a ceremonial opening drive.” The Guardian described Palmer as “visibly frail and emotional.” His balance was flagging, but he still proclaimed he was “good” when asked, the Guardian recalled.
In March, “due to a nagging shoulder injury,” Palmer was not able to “fulfill his duties as honorary starter at the 2016 Masters,” Golf Digest had reported. Fellow legend Jack Nicklaus said at that time, according to Golf Digest: “I know he is doing what is in the best interest of his health and for future opportunities to get back up on that tee with driver in hand.
In 2014, Palmer “underwent a pacemaker implant procedure for an irregular heartbeat,” said Golf Digest. At that time, said the magazine, Palmer said, “I’m fine, and I’m continuing to feel better” and could still be found working in his office “located across from Latrobe Country Club, his boyhood golfing home that he now owns.”
The Post-Gazette said Palmer’s father died of a heart attack and recounted an anecdote from Palmer’s book, in which he was asked if he was afraid of dying and replied, “No…I’m not particularly afraid of dying — as long as I go the way my father did.”
USA Today described Palmer’s contribution to his sport and country by saying, “Along the way he became one of the sport’s best players and a successful businessman, philanthropist, trailblazing advertising spokesman, talented golf course designer and experienced aviator.” He was inducted into the Golf Hall of fame in 2004, and died with a net worth of $675 million and 62 titles on the PGA Tour, according to USA Today.
Palmer will also forever be known as the namesake of the Arnold Palmer drink, a mix of lemonade and iced tea.
Last spring certainly seemed to be the moment that Palmer’s health began to force him to step back from things he loved. In March, his grandson, pro golfer Sam Saunders, said Palmer wouldn’t be as much of a presence at the Arnold Palmer Invitational: “I think his availability to get out and be on the course and be seen as much will be limited.” A question-and-answer session replaced the traditional press conference, said Golf.com.
Golf.com also wrote as the Masters approached last spring, “He’s not at 100 percent and his hearing, which has declined in recent years, has reached a point where live question and answers are difficult for him due to audio issues.”
According to his website bio, Palmer “won the Masters Tournament four times, in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964; the U.S. Open in spectacular fashion in 1960 at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver and the British Open in 1961 and 1962.”
Palmer’s website says his story began in Pennsylvania, “The saga of Arnold Palmer began when he was four years old, swinging his first set of golf clubs, cut down by his father, Milfred J. (Deacon) Palmer, who worked at Latrobe Country Club from 1921 until his death in 1976, much of that time as both golf professional and course superintendent. Before long, Arnie was playing well enough to beat the older caddies at the club. He began caddying himself when he was 11 and worked at almost every job at the club in later years.”
Palmer also had a history of charitable work. His website, which is now a tribute to him and memorial, says, “It all began in the 1960’s when Arnold Palmer’s go for broke style of golf bolstered a legion of fans who were coined by the press as Arnie’s Army. Today, Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation provides financial support to institutions and organizations that help children, youth, families, the environment and the communities in which we live.” There is a children’s hospital in his name.
Tributes were already rolling in, with people sharing Palmer’s SportsCenter commercials on social media. He was remembered as a dignified legend who always carried himself with class.
Palmer and Kathleen married six years later, the magazine said. His grandson, Samuel Saunders, is a professional golfer.
Palmer was heralded as an icon in the game of a golf and a role model.
It was already a tragic day in the sports world.
Also provoking sadness in the world of sports: Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died earlier Sunday in a tragic boating accident in Florida. And the CFL’s Mylan Hicks died in a shooting outside a Canadian nightclub. Read more about those deaths here:
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