BrooklynFans Of Books: “Arnie”

Arnie: The Life Of Arnold Palmer

By Tom Callahan

Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins

Tom Callahan got to know Arnold Palmer as well as anybody, as the veteran golf writer has covered the Masters since 1972 and kept up with Palmer since then.

“Throughout the years, I watched him at many tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. i was at Oakmont in Pennsylvania when, with six holes left to play, Palmer was sure he was winning the US Open only to hear the thunder of Johnny Miller’s 63 up ahead. I was at Medinah in Illinois when the vinegar between Arnold and Jack (Nicolaus) finally spilled out. I was at Muirfield Village in Ohio when they reconciled. And I was at Augusta in Georgia on the Wednesday when they played their first practice round with 20-year-old amateur Tiger Woods.

“For Golf Digest, I went to Latrobe, Pennsylvania to write “Arnie turns 60,” “Arnie turns 70,” and “Arnie turns 80″ pieces. Sitting at his office desk with his adjutant, Doc Giffin, on the couch, Palmer talked his life story to me in three volumes and complete chapters too detailed to fit in Golf Digest. Like the nightmare of being taken by a highway patrolman to identify best friend and roommate Bud Worsham’s body at Wake Forest College.”

Throughout the years, they chatted in places like Latrobe, Pennsylvania, of which Palmer said, “Latrobe isn’t just where I’m from, it’s who I am.” The topics included his father, Pap, who Palmer said of, “I prayed for compliments from my father, but they never came,” and his mother Doris, and Palmer said of her, “No player ever had a more nurturing golf mom,” as well as on Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan.

Palmer was Hogan’s successor at the helm of golf, and Hogan had a coldness to him. Palmer said, “Hogan never called me by name. Never. It was always ‘Fella,’  or ‘Hey, you,’ and I resented the hell out of it.”

Hogan was nearly alone in not liking Palmer, and he was entirely alone in not being liked by him. Arnold’s adjutant and friend since the 1960s, Doc Giffin, said, “I’ve been referred to as his handler, but I’ve never been his handler. He doesn’t need a handler. Why is Arnold Palmer so popular? The answer is simple. He likes people, and they know it.”

To write about a monumental figure like Palmer requires an authority like Callahan, who also write two essential books on Tiger Woods, In Search of Tiger and His Father’s Son: Earl and Tiger Woods.

Palmer is arguably the greatest golfer of all time, as he won more than 90 tournaments, including four Masters, but those numbers don’t do justice to the greatness of his achievements.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Palmer changed golf and the world of sports with his vision of maximizing revenue through endorsements and appearances.

Palmer understood the marketing possibilities of sports and formed an alliance with sports agent Mack McCormack. He parlayed his brilliance on the golf course into deals and paydays previously unheard of, and paved the way for the multi-million dollar deals that are standard across all sports.

In fact, the story of a well-known longtime drink that has beared his name is an example of “Madmen”-era marketing genius.

in the early 1970s, Callahan was at a one-day charity event in Cincinnati and asked Palmer, “What’s the charity getting and what are you getting?” With a raised eyebrow, Palmer replied, “You’ll have to see McCormack about the charity. I’m getting twelve thousand dollars, Gary Player’s getting eight thousand, and the others are getting a grand apiece. Anything else you want to know?” “Sorry,” Callahan said. Palmer told him, “Don’t ever apologize for doing your job,” and that was the start of the relationship that became this book.

Arnie is laid out in chapters broken up by years, such as 1929, when Palmer was born in Western Pennsylvania, 1960, when he took over golf, 1962, when his rivalry with Jack Nicklaus was formed, and 2016, when he passed away, and there are comments from many luminaries in the golf world, such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Tom Watson.

At the end, there is a very valuable resource for all Palmer fans, an appendix listing all his tournaments, where he finished, and how much he earned.

On Palmer’s birth and the sports landscape in Western Pennsylvania, Callahan writes, “‘Latrobe isn’t just the place where I’m from,’ Palmer said. ‘It’s who I am.’

“He made his entrance on September 10, 1929. The Roaring ’20s and Jazz Age were going out, the Great Depression was coming in. And Bobby Jones was about to win everything.

“Palmer was really from two places: Latrobe and, three or four miles south, Youngstown, where he went to grade school (in a two-room schoolhouse) and did most of his adolescent carousing; three places, if you count Pittsburgh; 40 miles to the west, where the main exports were steel and quarterbacks.

“Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, George Blanda, Babe Parilli, Johnny Lujack…Palmer shared traits with all of them. ‘Arnie plays golf,’ Johnny Miller said, ‘like others play football.’ Palmer played a little football himself, in junior high, unconventionally marrying the positions of offensive halfback and defensive tackle, until golf preoccupied him.”

Callahan writes of Palmer’s dominance in 1960, “Winning eight tournaments (40 years would go by before someone – you might be able to guess who – won nine), Arnold earned a record $80,738 in official prize money (some $30,000 more than second place, bettering Ted Kroll’s $72,836 from 1956). At the same time, he became a staple in the top five. With Heinz ketchup (headquartered in Pittsburgh), L&M cigarettes, Munsingwear sports shirts, and (just as odd as it sounds) a string of laundry and dry-cleaning franchises, super-agent-to-be Mark McCormack boosted Palmer’s total income for the year to around $190,000.

“Arnie appeared on What’s My Line? Because his name was thought to be a bigger tip-off than his face, he signed in on the chalkboard as ‘X.’ ‘Frankly, had he had a hat on,’ panelist Martin Gabel later told moderator John Daly (not the golfer), ‘I would have known him.’ After Bennett Cerf narrowed the inquiry to sports and then golf, Gabel, Arlene Francis, and Dorothy Kilgallen sang out together: ‘Are you Arnold Palmer?’

“Almost.”

Callahan wrote of his rivalry being born with Jack Nicklaus, “The 1962 U.S. Open, where Palmer-Nicklaus broke in their hyphen, was set at Oakmont in Palmer country, 42 miles from Latrobe. Demonstrating a sense of theater, the USGA paired Arnold and Jack for the first two days. Fearing overlong round on what still might be the most difficult golf course in America, the blazer brigade with their armbands, briar pipes, shooting sticks, Croix de Guerres, and dandruff sent the players out in twosomes all three days, including Saturday’s double round.

“‘From our opening tee shots Thursday,’ Nicklaus said, ‘the galleries were extremely loud and extremely partisan, but I didn’t notice, I was playing golf. My father told me about it afterward.’ (Charlie Nicklaus was furious.) The ground actually quaked from foot stamping in greenside grandstands as Nicklaus prepared to putt. He didn’t feel the tremors. Still in his ‘Fat Jack’ phase, he didn’t hear anyone shout ‘Miss it, Fat Guts!’  either.

“‘Someone standing in the deep rough,’ Player said, ‘held up a sign that said, ‘Hit it here, Ohio Fats!’ It was shameful.’

The truth is, when Nicklaus’ concentration was dialed up to full beam, he was only faintly aware of other people on the moor. Out of decency he had trained himself, every half hour or so (like baseball broadcaster Red Barber turning over his egg timer as a reminder to repeat the score), to acknowledge with a wink, an incredibly synthetic wink, like a love letter marked ‘Occupant.’

“This was the essential difference between Palmer and Nicklaus. Second-timers in Palmer’s gallery imagined he recognized them and had missed them and wondered where the hell they’d been. Leaning on his club, waiting for his turn to play, he cast his eyes about for feminine inspiration. ‘On the golf course,’ said Raymond Floyd, ‘all I ever saw was a mass of people. I saw, but I didn’t see. Palmer was able to focus in on everybody in the gallery individually. It wasn’t fake.”

Palmer and Nicklaus went into a classic playoff, which Callahan wrote about, “Anyway, their playoff wasn’t close. Jack went four-up after six holes and with an even-par score won by three, 71 to 74. It was his first PGA Tour victory and his third consecutive top-five finish in the U.S. Open. At 22, still the holder of the U.S. Amateur title, Nicklaus was a major champion. ‘I’ve always believed,’ Palmer said, ‘if I could have just held him off that day, I might have been able to hold him off for a while. But not forever.’

“In 1962, for the second time in three years, Palmer missed by just a single stroke in a fourth round of being live in the Grand Slam after three legs. But he wasn’t alone at the top of the game anymore.”

Arnie is essential reading for golf fans and those who like to read about American icons.

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