An idol worth admiring

Most of us had childhood idols. Some were adults who influenced us on a daily basis, like teachers and coaches.

Others were celebrities, either in the entertainment business or sports. Our sports heroes when we were growing up were Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas, Milwaukee Braves catcher Del Crandall and golfer Arnold Palmer. Of the three, the only one we ever got to see play his sport in person was Palmer. The only one we talked to was Palmer.

And Arnold Palmer lived up to our heroic vision of him. This week marks the first anniversary of his death.

The last time we saw Palmer in person he was sitting on the back bumper of a Ford SUV taking off his golf shoes after a round at the Senior Skins game at the Wailea Gold Course. The tailgate was up on the SUV and he sat there comfortably talking to about 15 to 20 fans.

He was in no hurry. But, then, that’s the impression Palmer always gave to his fans. He always made time for them. As various pundits have pointed out, probably the least valuable sports autograph is Palmer’s — because he signed so many of them.

He changed golf. From the late 1950s through most of the 1960s, Arnie’s Army of fans would look for the Sunday charge that would notch another victory for the King. Those dramatic wins and his telegenic smile gave professional golf a weekly presence on TV. Purses grew, rights to televise golf exploded and the professional golfer as a millionaire was born.

But Arnold Palmer did more than play golf. He built hospitals for women and children. He was a record-setting aviator. Yet, as he lived this larger-than-life dream, he stayed in touch with us common folk. He was a nice man.

Palmer died on Sept. 25, 2016, of complications from a heart problem. An era had ended, a life well lived had come to a close.

Yet, as long as there is a PGA Tour and as long as patients are treated at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children or the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, golf’s King will live on.

He was an idol who didn’t disappoint.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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