Thursday, December 2, 2021

Arnold Palmer: TV’s First Sports Superstar

Arnold Palmer slips into a green coat, the traditional symbol of the Masters Golf winners, in ceremony at Augusta on April 12, 1964, after a record fourth victory for the Pennsylvania professional.
Arnold Palmer slips into the green jacket, the traditional symbol of Masters champions, in a ceremony at Augusta on April 12, 1964, after a record fourth victory.

For those of us who were around when the marriage between television and the world of sports was made, there were many individuals and competitions which contributed to the initial success. Ironically, television’s first sports superstar was not a product of baseball, football or even basketball — it was a golfer, and what a sensational golfer he was!

Arnold Palmer, affectionately referred to now as the “King of Golf”, was just coming into his prime as television was gearing up in its sports coverage. The Masters was the crown jewel of golf in the late 50’s and early 60’s and remains so even today. Nothing captivated the viewers’ attention more than watching Arnold and “his army of fans” swarm the golf course as he mounted one of his famous charges. Between 1958 and 1964 Arnold would win a record then four Masters, two British Opens and a US Open. Not one individual in sports during this timeframe came anywhere close to this level of success. And when “Arnie” was not winning he still had our undivided attention.

What made Palmer unique was a combination of ingredients. He had the charisma, looks and physical strength not to omit his risk taking demeanor and exceptional skill. In other words he had it all. Golf was a secondary sport (of interest) during this era until Arnold came along and elevated its status unlike anything seen previously. The newly created interest in the game also drove up winning purses which in turn attracted more individuals to golf.

Arnold’s rise to fame and Augusta National have become inseparable through the years. Only one golfer in history (Jack Nicklaus) has won more Masters as Arnie and Tiger Woods are tied for second with four green jackets each. In 1961 Arnold came very close to accomplishing what no other golfer ever had and that would have been winning three consecutive Masters. Already having won the 1960 Masters (and winning again in 1962) Arnold came to the 72nd hole of the 61 Masters with the lead. A double bogey would give Gary Player his first green jacket and deprive Arnold of what might have been.

Palmer’s popularity was also enhanced by his relationships with a number of famous people which included President Dwight Eisenhower; comedian Bob Hope; and numerous others in the sports and entertainment fields. Golf had become a year round sport unlike the three major sports) by its ability to showcase courses in warmer climates during extreme winter months. Golf was not limited by a season as television viewers could follow Arnold and his challengers starting in January and continuing throughout the year.

Reflecting back on this time some 55 years ago, it truly was a “golden age” and at the center of it all was the young man from Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Many stars have come and gone since Arnold was occupying his throne, but no one has come close to being as universally admired and loved as Arnold Palmer. He took chances when others played safe. In the long run even his disappointments were magnified which have contributed to his legend.


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Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor. Steve writes on Ole Miss athletics, Oxford business, politics and other subjects. He is an Ole Miss grad and former radio announcer for the basketball team. In addition, he is a certified economic and community developer and currently, a highly successful leader in the real estate business with Premier Properties of Oxford.You can contact Steve at sovassallo@gmail.com or call him at 985-852-7745.

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