Arnold Palmer, First Star of Golf's TV Age, Dies at 87

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Arnold Palmer, whose everyman persona and golfing prowess helped to popularize the game and earn him millions of dollars, has died. He was 87.

Mr. Palmer had been awaiting cardiac surgery in a Pittsburgh hospital when his condition deteriorated, and he died Sunday, according to a statement on the website of his charitable foundation.

One of the 13 inaugural inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, Mr. Palmer won 62 U.S. PGA Tour events between 1955 and 1973, including seven major championships.

His popularity was fueled by the growth of television in the late 1950s. Known on and off the course as "the King," Mr. Palmer attracted fans with his intimidating style, pigeon-toed putting stance and powerful swing, characterized by an abbreviated follow-though and head tilt that everyday golfers could relate to.

"Arnold brought a lot more to the game than just his game," Jack Nicklaus told Golf World magazine in September 2009. "He was there at the right time with television, and his flair and his charisma were things that were really very, very important to the game of golf at that time."

Broadcaster Vin Scully once said of Mr. Palmer, "In a sport that was high society, he made it 'High Noon."'

Arnold Daniel Palmer was born on Sept. 10, 1929, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where his father, Deacon, was groundskeeper and club pro at Latrobe Country Club. Palmer, one of four siblings, grew up in a house along the original nine-hole course.

He was 4 when he swung his first golf clubs, which his father had cut down to size, according to a biography on Palmer's website. He began working as a caddy at the country club at 11. He was a two-time state champion in high school golf and won five West Penn Amateur Championships.

Mr. Palmer also circulated with the rich and powerful, playing golf and becoming friends with presidents including Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford.

His best season was 1960, when he won eight times. His victory at that year's U.S. Open remains one of golf's most significant events, ranking alongside Masters Tournament wins by Tiger Woods in 1997 and Nicklaus in 1986.

Entering the final round at Cherry Hills in Denver, Mr. Palmer sat seven strokes off the lead. After driving the green on the 346-yard first hole, he opened with six birdies in the first seven holes for a 30 on the front nine.

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Palmer led the U.S. PGA Tour's money list four times and in 1963 became the first golfer to win more than $100,000 in a season. He was the winning captain on two Ryder Cup teams and played on the U.S. squad six times.

His final round came at the 2004 Masters, 40 years after he collected his seventh and final major victory at the same tournament.

Mr. Palmer did not invent sports marketing. But he nearly perfected it, amassing a global empire of licensing deals and endorsements that seems just as relevant today as it was when he first began building it back in the 1950s. The legend set out to ensure his dynasty outlasts him.

In 2009, he brought in $30 million, mostly through endorsements and other off-course income, placing him fourth on Golf Digest magazine's top 50 earners list behind Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh.

He helped start International Management Group, which grew into one of the world's largest sports agencies, after a handshake agreement with the late Mark McCormack.

In 1972, he created the Arnold Palmer Design Co., which has since built about 300 courses in 28 countries. Along with Latrobe, Palmer called the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida, his home course after purchasing it in 1971.

Palmer even thought to license the drink -- a combination of iced tea and lemonade -- that he often enjoyed, and which came to carry his name. Over the years he appeared in spots for ESPN, Mercury Cougar and Xarelto.

Palmer was also a licensed pilot and in June 1996 became the first person to receive a Cessna Citation X airplane off the production line. Twenty years earlier, he set a new world aviation record with two others by flying a Learjet 36 around the world in 57 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds. An airport in his Pennsylvania hometown is named for him.

In September 2009, Palmer became the second golfer, after Byron Nelson, to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, an honor bestowed by U.S. President Barack Obama.

He underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 1997 and became an advocate of programs supporting cancer research and early detection.

~~ Bloomberg News and E.J. Schultz

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