Tributes have poured in to Arnold Palmer after the seven-time major winner, and one of the most beloved figures in the game, died on Sunday.
Palmer, whose powerful swing, attacking approach and ready smile attracted millions of loyal fans known as ‘Arnie’s Army’ during his illustrious career, had celebrated his 87th birthday earlier this month.
Alastair Johnson, the chief executive officer of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, said Palmer died in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon due to complications of heart problems.
A four-time Masters champion, Palmer had been unable to perform his customary role as honorary starter in April alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player - the other members of golf’s ‘Big Three’ - due to a shoulder injury and looked frail as he was helped to a seat on the first tee.
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said on Sunday: “His presence at Augusta National will be sorely missed, but his impact on the Masters remains immeasurable - and it will never wane.
“Our thoughts are with Arnold’s beloved wife Kit and his entire family. We look forward to the 2017 Masters Tournament, when we will do our very best to appropriately pay our respects to Arnold Palmer - a Masters legend, our game’s finest ambassador, and a hero to generations of people throughout the world.”
Palmer is survived by his second wife, Kit, daughters Amy Saunders and Peggy Wears and six grandchildren, including Sam Saunders, who plays on the PGA Tour.
Born Arnold Daniel Palmer on September 10, 1929 - just weeks before the Wall Street Crash - the man who would become ‘the King’ was hardly raised in regal conditions in the blue-collar town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the eldest of four children.
But crucially his father Deacon, known as Deke, became the greenkeeper at Latrobe Country Club in 1921 and the club professional in 1933, giving his son the ideal start to a career which ultimately produced more than 90 career titles, including seven major championships.
Palmer won the Masters in each even-numbered year from 1958 to 1964, two Open Championships and the US Open in 1960, but never completed the career grand slam by winning the US PGA Championship - something he considered his greatest regret.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was reviving the fortunes of the Open, which had often been shunned by the leading American professionals due to the low prize money and cost and time involved in travelling across the Atlantic.
Nicklaus, who enjoyed a long, friendly rivalry with Palmer, said: “I wish I had another chance to talk to him, but I am so glad we talked a couple weeks ago on his birthday, when he sounded great.
“He was one of my best friends, closest friends, and he was for a long, long time. I will miss him greatly. He was the king of our sport and always will be.”
Player had dedicated his tee shot at Augusta to Palmer and said at the time: “Arnold oozed with charisma. He had a short career in majors compared to Jack and I, but even though it was shorter, boy, he was so charismatic and a great icon and did so much for the game.’’
Off the course, Palmer started many successful businesses, including a club company and a golf course design firm. Since 1979, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando - which he bought in 1974 - has been a fixture on the PGA Tour, with Tiger Woods winning the title eight times.
“It is not an exaggeration to say there would be no modern day PGA Tour without Arnold Palmer,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
“There would be no PGA Tour Champions without Arnold Palmer. There would be no Golf Channel without Arnold Palmer (who was a co-founder). No-one has had a greater impact on those who play our great sport or who are touched by it.”
Palmer’s legacy will be immediate as well as long-lasting, with US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love saying his side will “draw from his strength and determination to inspire us” when they face Europe at Hazeltine over the coming week.