By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
September 26, 2016
“Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”
Arnold Palmer lived, boy did he live.
He found his passion in golf and followed that passion vigorously — even when he was well into his 80’s and the physical limitations of aging wouldn’t allow him to play like he once did.
He cherished the relationships that golf had given him. Palmer was the ultimate people person. When he looked into people’s eyes, he saw people equal to him. It didn’t matter their social, professional or economic status. It didn’t matter their race or religion. He simply saw fellow souls, traveling along on the journey of life with him.
Arnie loved to compete. When it came to golf, Palmer’s philosophy was play your guts out trying to win, but then share some camaraderie over a beer afterwards. He loved the 19th hole — its stories, jokes, laughs and pats on the back — as much as he did the first 18. When Arnie was happy, which was almost always the case when surrounded by family and friends, he radiated joy.
Arnold Palmer was a true original and he lived life authentically. People who knew him best said his public persona was the same as his private persona. He wore his emotions on his sleeves, and his army of fans lived and died with him during his up and down rollercoaster rides on the golf course.
Arnie’s Army was also drawn to his “go for broke” style of play. He didn’t fear failure on the scoreboard and he didn’t fear screwing up a shot and being ridiculed. If he messed up a given hole or tournament, he simply flushed it and started to look forward to the next hole or tournament.
In addition to his passions for golf, flying airplanes, and tinkering with his golf clubs, Palmer had a deep compassion for people who were struggling. He poured millions of dollars into hospitals in his home state of Pennsylvania and adopted state of Florida. He loved helping people, in multiple ways, either personally or through his numerous philanthropic activities.
Palmer had many accomplishments besides his tournament wins. He almost single-handedly built the PGA Tour from a struggling business into a thriving enterprise at the start of the television era. His presence was also crucial to the success of the PGA’s senior tour (now called the Champions Tour) in its early days. In addition, he became the driving force behind the launch of the Golf Channel, at a time when others thought it was an idea doomed to failure. As a pilot, he set a round-the-world speed record in his Learjet. And, as a philanthropist, he used his fame and fortune to help thousands of people.
Arnold Palmer was a great golfer and probably a better person. Sure, like all human beings, he wasn’t perfect. He had some warts. But he was probably the classiest transcendent superstar we’ve seen across all sports. And he was more real, likable and accessible to the people that loved and admired him than any other big-time star or celebrity we’ve seen.
Palmer’s optimism also drew people to him. He always thought tomorrow would be better than today. After a bad round of golf, he thought he could fix something — in his swing or with his clubs — that would allow him to play better tomorrow. He had an indomitable spirit that his long-time rival and friend, Jack Nicklaus, captured beautifully upon hearing of Palmer’s death.
“My friend—many people’s friend—just wore out,” wrote Nicklaus on Twitter.
“I know he was in Pittsburgh trying to find out how to make himself better. That’s what Arnold has always tried to do. He has always been a fighter and he never gave up on anything. He didn’t give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold’s will and spirit did not.”
Yes, Arnie’s body finally gave out but his will and spirit were strong until the end. And it’s that spirit that lives on, providing a terrific model for all of us on how to play the game of life.
Follow your passions. Be true to yourself. Take risks. Enjoy the company of others. Laugh often. And help people along the way.
Not a bad blueprint.
Well done Arnie. Rest in peace.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.Print
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.