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Arnold Palmer’s Legacy Is Much Bigger Than An Iced Tea-Lemonade Concoction

Palmer was one of the most beloved and important golfers in history

One of the giants of golf is gone.

Arnold Palmer, regarded as one of the best and most beloved golfers of all time, died Sunday. He was 87.

Palmer was one of only a handful of golfers who transcended the sport. He won 62 PGA Tour events, placing him fifth on the all-time list, and won seven majors, which ties him for seventh.

But it was his charisma and charm on top of his success that led to his mass following, known as “Arnie’s Army.” Large galleries would follow him on course and be parodied in commercials.

Palmer’s thrilling on-course battles with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player—especially in major tournaments, and particularly at The Masters—in the 1960s and early ‘70s helped to elevate the sport. Palmer arguably was the most affable of the three, with Nicklaus being seen as cooler and less accessible, and Player being outspoken. It drew crowds to him, anxiously awaiting that unorthodox swing.

Said Nicklaus:

Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend,” Nicklaus said in a tweet Sunday. “Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself. Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans—Barbara and I among them. We were great competitors, who loved competing against each other, but we were always great friends along the way. Arnold always had my back, and I had his. We were always there for each other. That never changed. He was the king of our sport and always will be.

It all made golf more appealing for television, helping to spur interest in the sport.

“Arnold meant everything to golf. Are you kidding me?” Tiger Woods said. “I mean, without his charisma, without his personality in conjunction with TV—it was just the perfect symbiotic growth. You finally had someone who had this charisma, and they're capturing it on TV for the very first time.”

Palmer, Nicklaus and Player were honored this past April at The Masters as honorary starters, though only Nicklaus and Player took their ceremonial swings.

A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal, Palmer’s legacy wasn’t cemented only on the golf course. He was a businessman, philanthropist, and even a mixologist. The drink bearing his name—half iced tea, half lemonade—has grown in popularity and made him millions of dollars in his later years.

“Arnold Palmer will always be a champion, in every sense of the word. He inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit, displaying sportsmanship, caring for golfers and golf fans, and serving as a lifelong ambassador for the sport,” the U.S. Golf Association said in a statement. “The game is indeed better because of him, and in so many ways, will never be the same."

"Everyone got hooked to the game of golf via TV because of Arnold."

Palmer was the first player to earn $1 million playing golf. He is predeceased by his first wife, Winnie, and survived by his second wife, Kit; his daughters, Amy (Roy) Saunders and Peggy (Stewart) Bryan; six grandchildren; numerous great-grandchildren; his brother, Jerry, and sisters, Sandra Sarni and Lois "Cheech" Tilly.

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