Remembering Arnold Palmer, 1929-2016

Posted September 26, 2016 - Western Pennsylvania Golf Association - Contact

Arnold Palmer at the 1954 U.S. Amateur. Photo courtesy of the USGA.

The greatest golfer from Western Pennsylvania died yesterday at the age of 87. Arnold Palmer was one of the most charismatic and popular athletes in the history of sports.

Palmer’s dedication and contributions to the game are unparalleled. The time he spent giving back to the game will long be remembered, and the impact he had on the game helped turn it into what it is today.

It earned him the nickname “The King.”

“It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of Mr. Palmer,” Executive Director Terry Teasdale said. “He helped to put golf in western Pennsylvania on the map and brought countless golfers to the game. The game is in a better place because of his efforts. He will be missed greatly.”

Both as a player and as an ambassador, Palmer brought the game to the masses and greatly increased the game’s reach for both amateurs and professionals. In this spirit, the WPGA and the Tri-State Section, PGA of America, compete annually at Latrobe Country Club in the Palmer Cup Matches.

In 1971, the United States Golf Association awarded him its highest honor by naming him the recipient of the Bob Jones Award in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.

Long before entries were accepted via mail by the WPGA, Arnold Palmer arrived at his first West Penn Junior Championship at Highland Country Club in 1947 to compete only to be denied a tee time because his home club, Latrobe Country Club, was not a member club of the WPGA.

The young Palmer called his father, Milfred “Deacon” Palmer, the greenskeeper and golf professional at Latrobe, who then called Perry DelVecchio, the golf professional at Greensburg Country Club, who made Palmer a member “on the spot.”

Palmer was allowed to compete, and he won the first of consecutive West Penn Juniors.

This is the story that has often been told, and Palmer went on to become one of the greatest and most popular golfers of all time.

It all started in a small city east of Pittsburgh called Latrobe, whose population counted nearly 12,000 people in 1960. Palmer’s accomplishments as a junior helped set the stage for what would become a stellar amateur and professional career.

A standout golfer at Latrobe High School, Palmer won the WPIAL and PIAA Championships in 1946 and 1947. He went on to win five West Penn Amateurs in 1947, and 1949-1952.

Arnold Palmer shaking the hand of Steve Savor after winning the 1950 West Penn Amateur at Longue Vue Club.

Palmer is one of two players to win the West Penn Junior and West Penn Amateur in the same year. He is one of three players to win the West Penn Junior, West Penn Amateur, and West Penn Open in a career. He also claimed the title in the Ohio Amateur in 1953 and 1954.

After winning the 1954 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club of Detroit, Palmer turned professional at the age of 24 and had immediate success. From 1958 to 1964, he won seven professional major titles. He won the Masters Tournament in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964, and the 1961 and 1962 British Open. From 1960 to 1967, his record in the U.S. Open included one win in 1960, and four runner-up finishes with three of them in a playoff for the title. He also won the 1981 U.S. Senior Open in the first year he was eligible.

While taking a week off from the PGA Tour in 1957, Palmer returned to the region to win the West Penn Open at Fox Chapel Golf Club.

Palmer is part of an elite group of five players to win three different USGA Championships along with JoAnne Carner, Jack Nicklaus, Carol Semple Thompson and Tiger Woods. He is also part of a select group of golfers with victories in the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open.

All told, he won 62 events on the PGA Tour, 12 on the Senior Tour and 92 titles overall around the world. His 22-8-2 record in the Ryder Cup is the best winning percentage ever. He won four Vardon trophies for low scoring average in a season on the PGA Tour, three money titles, and two PGA Tour Player of the Year honors. His total wins on the PGA Tour ranks him fifth all-time.

Palmer was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, and he was inducted to the Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame on September 26, 2013, as part of the inaugural class.

The Palmer Cup was named in his honor. Palmer was a long-time member of the Tri-State Section and competed in the matches for a number of years. He continued to attend the matches as host after he stopped competing. At the WPGA Centennial Celebration in 1999, Palmer was the featured guest and keynote speaker.

Palmer’s legacy in Western Pennsylvania and throughout the world of golf will forever be remembered.