A farewell to “The King” turned somber when Jack Nicklaus, his voice cracking as a tear formed in his left eye, urged the elite and the everyman to remember how Arnold Palmer touched their lives and “please don’t forget why.” Palmer died Sept. 25.
LATROBE, Pa. – A farewell to “The King” turned somber when Jack Nicklaus, his voice cracking as a large tear formed in his left eye, urged the elite and the everyman to remember how Arnold Palmer touched their lives and “please don’t forget why.”
“I hurt like you hurt,” said Nicklaus, winner of a record 18 major golf tournaments. “You don’t lose a friend of 60 years and don’t feel an enormous loss.”
The service Tuesday at Saint Vincent College in Palmer’s hometown included laughter and warmth from stories about perhaps the most significant figure in modern golf. Nearly 1,000 golf dignitaries from around the world, referred to by former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem Jr. as the “elite battalion of Arnie’s Army,” filled the Basilica.
Arnie in Washington
Notable Arnold Palmer moments and accomplishments in Washington:
1960: Finished tied for 24th in Carling Open at Fircrest Golf Club, in suburban Tacoma. Earned $250.
1962: Tied for sixth in Seattle World’s Fair Open Invitational at Broadmoor Golf Club. Jack Nicklaus won.
1984: Played in foursome with Nicklaus, Sahalee pro Rick Acton and Don Bies in benefit for Seattle Symphony at Sahalee Country Club.
1987-95: Played in GTE Northwest Classic on PGA Tour Champions (then called Senior Tour) at Inglewood Golf Club in Kenmore. Best finish was tie for third in 1987.
Made a hole-in-one on 193-yard eighth hole at Inglewood in 1992 with a 3-iron.
Shot his age (66) on his birthday in 1995 at Inglewood; there is a plaque near the first tee commemorating the accomplishment.
1997: Played in Fred Couples Invitational at Inglewood and was in featured pairing the second day with Laura Davies of the LPGA. Palmer shot 75 and a nervous Davies shot 83.
2001: Played in exhibition with Lee Trevino, Fuzzy Zoeller and Corey Pavin – all four U.S. Open winners – at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge in event to benefit Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Palmer and his company designed:
Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club, Blaine;
Prospector Course, Suncadia, near Cle Elum; remodel Seattle Golf Club.
About 4,000 others headed to sites across the college to watch. Long lines of traffic formed two hours before the service began.
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Palmer died Sept. 25 in Pittsburgh at age 87 as he was preparing for heart surgery. His family had a private funeral Thursday and asked that a public service be held after the Ryder Cup, which ended Sunday, so no one would be left out.
“We were looking down at the air strip and the fog just suddenly lifted,” Ernie Els said after landing in one of several private jets that descended on Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe. “This is a beautiful day. We’ve all met different people in life. He was a man who didn’t change. It didn’t matter if you cut the grass or you were a president. He was the same with everybody. He was just … he was the man.”
Palmer won 62 times on the PGA Tour, including seven major championships. He inspired the modern version of the Grand Slam by going over to the British Open and making it important in the eyes of Americans again. He was a captain twice in the Ryder Cup, and the gold trophy the Americans won last weekend at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn., sat on a table for guests to see as they took their seats.
But this service was more about the lives Palmer touched than the tournaments he won.
In the large portrait at the front of the stage, Palmer wasn’t holding a golf club or a trophy. It was just The King and his grin that made everyone feel like they were friends, even if they had never met.
“Have there been better golfers? Perhaps, but not many. Has anyone done more for the game? No one has come even close,” former R&A chief Peter Dawson said. “Is there a finer human being? I haven’t met one yet.”
Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and a few other members of the U.S. team were there. So was the generation before them, Tom Watson and Curtis Strange, Lee Trevino and Mark O’Meara. Dozens of others were there, along with the heads of every major golf organization.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said he had known Palmer since 1957 — Finchem was 10 that year — because “when you saw him play, it was the same thing as meeting him.” He said Palmer brought so many people to golf because of his attacking style, his television appeal and how he carried himself.
“He had this other thing,” Finchem said. “It was the incredible ability to make you feel good — not just about him, but about yourself. I was amazed by how people reacted to him. He took energy from that and turned right around and gave it back.”
Mechem, one of Palmer’s closest advisers, set the tone for the service by asking the crowd to remember the image of Palmer walking up the 18th fairway, hitching up his pants and giving a thumbs-up. Still, a touch of sadness was inevitable.
“There’s an old saying that there are no irreplaceable people,” said Mechem, his voice cracking. “Whoever made that line didn’t know Arnold Palmer. There will never be another.”