On November 17, 1954, Arnold Palmer announced his intentions to turn pro by saying….“What other people find in poetry, I find in the flight of a good drive.” Palmer’s first tour win came during his 1955 rookie season….when he won the Canadian Open and earned $2,400 for his efforts….then he raised his game status for the next several seasons.
Arnold Palmer’s charisma was a major factor in establishing golf as a compelling television event in the 1950’s and 1960’s….which set the stage for the popularity it enjoys today. His first major championship win at the 1958 Masters Tournament….where he earned $11,250….went a long way in establishing his position as one of the leading stars in golf…..when by 1960, he had signed up as pioneering sports agent Mark McCormack’s first client. In later interviews, McCormack listed five attributes that made Palmer especially marketable…..his good looks….his relatively modest background, as his father was a greens keeper before rising to be club professional at a humble club in Latrobe, PA….the way he played golf by taking risks and wearing his emotions on his sleeve…..his involvement in a string of exciting finishes in early televised tournaments….and his affability. Palmer is also credited by many for securing the status of The Open Championship (British Open) among U.S. players…..for before Ben Hogan won that championship in 1953, few American professionals had traveled to play in The Open due to its extensive travel requirements, relatively small purse and the style of its links courses….which was radically different from most American courses.
Palmer wanted to emulate the feats of his predecessors Bobby Jones, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan in his quest to become a leading American golfer. In particular, Palmer traveled to Scotland in 1960 to compete in the British Open for the first time….as he had already won both the Masters and U.S. Open….and was trying to emulate Hogan’s 1953 feat of winning all three tournaments in a single year…..when Palmer played what he himself said were the four best rounds of his career, shooting 71-69-67-69….for his scores had the English excitedly claiming that Palmer may well be the greatest golfer ever to play the game….cuz British fans were excited about Palmer’s playing in the Open. Although he failed to win, losing out to Kel Nagle by a single shot, his subsequent Open wins in the early 1960’s convinced many American pros that a trip to Britain would be worth the effort….and certainly secured Palmer’s popularity among British and European fans….not just American ones…..and Arnie went on to win the British Open Championship in 1961 and 1962…. and last played in it in 1995. Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, called Palmer “a true gentleman, one of the greatest ever to play the game and a truly iconic figure in sport”….as his participation in The British Open Championship in the early 1960’s “was the catalyst to truly internationalize golf,” said European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley.