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Arnold Palmer's legacy is permanent

Golf has lost a royal presence on the course with Arnold Palmer's decision to quit competition, but the legacy of the man known as the King is alive across the sport's landscape and in the bank accounts of its top players.

Palmer, 77, was the face of golf when the world fell in love with the game on TV in the 1950s. That golden age of televised sport precipitated a sports marketing and business boom that exponentially raised the stakes and enabled the likes of Tiger Woods to pursue billionaire status.

The charismatic golfer from Latrobe, Pennsylvania turned professional in 1954 a few months after winning the U.S. Amateur. At his peak, he won 29 of his 62 PGA Tour titles during a four-year stretch from 1960 to 1963.

He led the PGA Tour with $75,262 in earnings in 1960. Two years later he topped the list with $81,448. By 1963 the game's growth he helped spur was paying dividends, and Palmer led with $128,230.

Last year, Woods topped the money list with more than $10.6 million out of his total income estimated by Forbes at nearly $90 million. The PGA Tour next year is offering over $250 million in prize money.

Palmer was more than just a supremely talented golfer who won seven major championships including four Masters titles.

Good looking, likeable and with a swashbuckling, go-for-broke style, Palmer had pizzazz and the game to go with it. He energized the sport and with his magnetism drew a legion of new fans -- Arnie's Army.

He was the master of the fightback, hitching up his pants and winning the 1960 U.S. Open by charging from seven strokes behind with a final-round 65 to overtake Ben Hogan and the young Jack Nicklaus at Cherry Hills.

His duels with Gary Player of South Africa and back-to-back British Open victories extended his appeal worldwide.

Palmer became a pioneer in the explosion of economic opportunities for sports stars after becoming the first prominent client of International Management Group (IMG) marketing trailblazer Mark McCormack in 1960.

Over the years, Palmer scaled back his tournament golf, bidding adieu to the majors and making fewer forays on the Champions Tour.

Life is still good for Palmer, who has taken advantage of the new world for sports stars he helped create.

Among his varied interests, Palmer is principal owner of the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, which hosts an annual PGA event. His course design company has had a hand in more than 200 new courses around the world. He helped start cable TV's The Golf Channel. He has been a high-profile spokesman for a number of companies.

In 2004, Forbes listed him among the top-earning athletes in the world at $20 million.

Last Friday at a Senior event outside Houston, his ailing back barked at him on the practice tee. "I was aching," he told reporters. "My toenails were aching."

The King's pride took a hit as he went eight over par through four holes after putting two balls in the water at the fourth, and he knew then that he could no longer compete.

Yet the golf legend made one last gesture that illustrated why after more than five decades he is still the people's champion.

With Arnie's Army of admirers lining the fairways of Augusta Pines, Palmer told playing partners Lee Trevino and John Mahaffey he was withdrawing and no longer keeping score, but would play out the round with them so as not to disappoint his fans.

Six-times major winner Trevino, 66, had the King autograph a ball for him at the end of the round.

"To know it's really over, that's tough," Palmer told reporters. "It's been my life.

"To stand out there and not be able to make something happen is very traumatic. When the people all want to see a good shot, you know it and you can't give it to them, that's when it's time."

October 18, 2006

 




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