3 THINGS
Lesser-Known Facts About Arnold Palmer March 7, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Even though he was an iconic figure in the game, there are a few facts that people don't know about Arnold Palmer. (USGA/John Mummert)

So much has been written and documented about Arnold Palmer that even casual sports fans feel like they know him. In addition to being one of the most well-known athletes of his era – he posted 62 PGA Tour wins and seven major championships, including the 1960 U.S. Open title at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver – Palmer attracted mass appeal thanks to his marketability.

Palmer the pitchman – he touted motor oil from his father’s iconic tractor in his hometown of Latrobe, Pa., rental cars and prescription medicine – intertwined with Palmer the golfer and course designer.

But even with that celebrity status, there are still aspects about “The King,” as many called him, that didn’t always generate headlines. In honor of the PGA Tour’s annual playing of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at his beloved Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla., here are three things that people might not know about Palmer:

The General’s Friend

It’s no secret that former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower – or “Ike” as he was known to many – loved the game of golf. During his presidency, he was given a membership at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, and, with the assistance of the USGA Green Section, he had a 3,000-square-foot putting green installed on the South Lawn of the White House.

Palmer was still a fledgling amateur when Eisenhower won the 1952 presidential election, but two years into his second term, the two were embarking on what would become a lifelong friendship until the World War II general died in 1969. They first met at a 1958 function at Laurel Valley Country Club in Ligonier, Pa., not far from Palmer’s hometown of Latrobe, and first played golf shortly after Palmer won the 1960 Masters.

While Eisenhower preferred to play a majority of his golf in private, he did participate in a public exhibition with Palmer at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., in 1963. When the round concluded, GOLF magazine wrote, “Eisenhower beamed like a boy with a new bicycle.”

Palmer later wrote of Eisenhower in his book, A Golfer’s Life: “After that first encounter at Augusta in 1960, our meetings on the golf course became more frequent and our playing companionship deepened into a genuine friendship that, for me at least, eclipsed any relationship I’d ever had with an older man besides my father. He loved to hear me talk about tour life, and I loved to hear him reminisce about his wartime experiences and reflect on current events.”

Eisenhower became “like a second father” to Palmer, and when he was asked to address Congress on March 27, 1990, on what would have been Ike’s 100th birthday, Palmer delivered a heartfelt and emotional speech.

Color Me Red

Palmer’s 65 in the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club is considered one of the greatest final-round performances in the game’s history. He erased a seven-stroke deficit to produce what would be his only U.S. Open victory. It also gave him the second leg of the Grand Slam after his triumph two months earlier at Augusta.

On the 72nd hole, Palmer can famously be seen tossing his visor into the gallery. But because the footage is in black and white, few know the actual color of that visor (red). Years later, the USGA was able to procure the visor for its museum in Liberty Corner, N.J., and today it can be viewed by visitors to the Palmer Room.

There is also an interesting backstory about how that visor came to the USGA’s attention. After Palmer tossed the visor, it came to rest near 11-year-old Skip Manning, the nephew of then-Cherry Hills head professional Ralph Arnold. Manning was urged by fellow spectators to crawl under the ropes and grab the item. He later waited for Palmer to emerge from the scoring area to sign it. Forty-eight years later, Manning saw a feature about the USGA Golf Museum during the 2008 U.S. Open, and he decided to donate it during a brief ceremony in Latrobe with Palmer present. Palmer had not seen it since that memorable day at Cherry Hills.

Signature Moment

Few things are more treasured from a professional athlete or celebrity than an autograph. These often are memorable keepsakes, something to document attending a special event such as the U.S. Open, or a way to connect with an icon. But as often is the case when Sharpie meets flag, hat or other personable item, the signature isn’t legible. Too often, the fan can’t tell whose name has been scribbled.

Palmer made sure his fans knew they were getting something signed by him, and his autograph became iconic. His mission was to sign objects that could easily be read, and he made sure to pass that along to the next generation of players.

Peter Jacobsen recalls Palmer scolding him about a poorly signed autograph. He told Jacobsen, the 2004 U.S. Senior Open champion who is now an analyst with NBC/Golf Channel, “If you’re signing a piece of memorabilia, you sign it so people can read it.” Jacobsen immediately adjusted his signature.

He later told pgatour.com: “I've taken that to heart my entire life. I don't sign my name anymore. I draw my name, just like Arnold did.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.