Arnold Palmer, legendary US golfer, dies aged 87

Champion widely regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time has died at the age of 87 in Pittsburgh

Arnold Palmer at the Masters in 2015
Arnold Palmer at the Masters in 2015

Arnold Palmer, one of the greatest players in the history of golf, has died at the age of 87, a source close to the family said.

It was reported he died on Sunday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after his  health had been in decline for some time.

His great rival Jack Nicklaus said on Twitter Palmer was a “legend” and “icon”, but also “one of my best friends. He was the king of our sport and always will be,” he wrote.

Tiger Woods thanked Palmer for his “friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs”.

“Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend,” Woods said on Twitter.

“It’s hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King.”

Palmer turned pro in 1955, winning a tournament in his first year on the tour and eventually claiming seven majors – six of them in the five-year period between 1960 and 1964, when he firmly established himself as a star of world sport and established a rivalry with Jack Nicklaus.

Palmer is credited with bringing golf to the masses
Palmer is credited with bringing golf to the masses

Augusta was a particularly happy hunting ground – four of his majors came at the Masters.

The son of a country club greenskeeper was also a trailblazer off the course, leveraging his booming stardom – built on a combination of his good looks, charisma and aggressive play – at the start of sport’s television age to become a walking billboard for corporate America.

He also developed the “Arnold Palmer” beverage, his post-round combination of iced tea and lemonade, which became an empire of its own.

Palmer said his upbringing helped him find success on the golf course. “When I was six years old, my father put me on a steel-wheeled tractor,” he recalled in a 2011 interview with the AP. “I had to stand up to turn the wheel. That’s one thing made me strong. The other thing was I pushed mowers. In those days, there were no motors on anything except the tractor. The mowers to cut greens with, you pushed.”

Palmer won the US Open in 1960
Palmer won the US Open in 1960

With his common touch and everyman persona, Palmer was also credited with breaking down the class barriers and democratising an elitist sport, introducing golf to a blue collar audience and sparking the popularity of the game amongst a legion of new fans who’d previously been shut out.

“If it wasn’t for Arnold, golf wouldn’t be as popular as it is now,” Woods said in 2004. “He’s the one who basically brought it to the forefront on TV. If it wasn’t for him and his excitement, his flair, the way he played, golf probably would not have had that type of excitement. And that’s why he’s the king.”

Palmer’s first wife, Winifred Walzer, who he wed in 1955, died of cancer in 1999. He married Kathleen Gawthrop in 2005 and became a strong advocate for cancer research programs, having undergone successful prostate cancer surgery himself in 1997. He is survived by his two daughters, Peggy Palmer Wears and Amy Palmer Saunders, as well as six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

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