Before accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004, Arnold Palmer shared a few laughs with President George W. Bush and gave the commander in chief a few golf tips in the East Room of the White House.
Five years later, when honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, Palmer, who again offered golf tips to some of the most important politicians in the country, jokingly thanked the House and the Senate for being able to agree on something.
After receiving the highest civilian awards given in the United States, Palmer went outside each day, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the U.S. Capitol, and signed autographs for hundreds of people.
That was Palmer, a man who connected with the masses, who related to kids, the hourly wage employee, the CEO — and Presidents.
Palmer, who died Sunday in Pittsburgh at age 87, according to a statement from the USGA, was the accessible common man who would become the King and lead his own army. 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.
While his approach on the course was not a model of aesthetics — the whirlybird followthrough, the pigeon-toed putting stance — it worked for him. With thick forearms and a thin waist, Palmer had an aggressive risk-reward approach to golf that made for compelling theater. He hit the ball with authority and for distance and ushered in an aggressive, hitch-up-your-trousers, go-for-broke, in-your-face power game rarely seen in the often stoic and staid sport.
Palmer, part of the alluring "Big Three," with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, won 62 titles on the PGA Tour, his last coming in the 1973 Bob Hope Desert Classic. Among those victories were four at the Masters, two at the British Open and one at the U.S. Open. He finished second in the U.S. Open four times, was runner-up three times in the PGA Championship, the only major that eluded him, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
Palmer became one of the best known sports figures and, at 5-10, 175, a telegenic golfer who burst out of black-and-white television sets across the country in the late 1950s and into the 1960s and took the game to the masses.