Arnold Palmer has died. That sad fact is not so shocking for a man of 87. There is no doubt he will be missed but the question I have is about how he will be remembered.
Palmer was a great player. For a brief few years he was the best in the game and won almost everything. When the wins stopped coming on the regular tour he helped the early Senior Tour grow. But the truth is, his last regular tour win was more than 40 years ago, and he quit beating the other old guys in 1988.
So why is he so famous? How is it possible that a guy who hasn’t been relevant as a player in decades was always ranked as one of the most popular and best paid athletes even in his 70s and 80s?
The answer is that Arnold Palmer was literally the first superstar athlete and invented what would become sports marketing. He co-invented the individual brand before anyone called it that and created a world allowing the modern athlete to make millions and the superstars of today to make hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements and salaries.
There’s a second piece to his legacy. He was by all accounts a great guy. Arnold Palmer never missed a chance to connect with fans, big stars, and Presidents of the United States. He could relate to everyone. He was a strong, handsome man who smiled, winked and strutted his way through five or six decades of being a household name.
Part three of the Palmer legend comes down to timing. He started winning and became the best in the game at the exact time that TV was growing. As the cliche goes, every man wanted to be him and every woman wanted to be with him.
So yes, there were trophies, golf course design, commercials, TV shows and more but the world changing legacy of Arnold Palmer is this. Before there was Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and every other superstar there was the kid from Latrobe, PA…Arnold Palmer…the first superstar.
RIP Mr. Palmer. My guess is the King has a tee time in Heaven in the morning.
Thanks for listening.