HeroVet: Arnold Palmer, Professional Golfing Great, Coast Guard Veteran

Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer (1929-2016) was a Coast Guard Veteran who exuded the style and expertise that represents the best of professional golf. Currently ranking fifth on the all-time PGA Tour victories list, "King" Palmer posted sixty-two victories and seven wins in Major Championships.

Early on, Palmer showed great promise as a golfer. As the son of a country club superintendent, he began playing the sport at age four. By age seven, he had broken a hundred. Later, attending Wake Forest University, he became a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference Golf Champion.

In college, Palmer suffered the loss of his dear friend Bud Worsham. Devastated in the wake of Worsham’s death, Palmer enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, where he served for three years. “I was pretty distraught over that [Worsham’s death] and decided that I needed to get away,” recalled Palmer in an interview with U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary historian Richard A. Stephenson.

During his time in the service, Palmer continued to hone his golfing skills, all the while gaining a perspective that would later serve him well as a professional golfer.

“The knowledge that I gained, the maturity that I gained in the Coast Guard was unbelievable. It matured me,” said Palmer. “It made me a better person for the world and I believe that in my own right. The military isn’t just restrictions and military duties. It’s learning and it’s very important that young people have that opportunity to learn and to know themselves a little better and I think the military helps put that in the right perspective. ”

Soon after exiting military service in 1954, Palmer won his first major title, the National Amateur Championship. In the fall of that same year, he proposed to Winnie, his late first wife of forty-five years, within days after meeting her. The following January, Palmer started on the professional tour and his career took off.

"I was ambitious as hell," he says of that first year out of the military in an interview with Sports Illustrated Magazine, after being named its 1961 Sportsman of the Year. "It took money to play in the big tournaments, and the only way I could get the money was by winning it."

Palmer also represented his country playing on six Ryder Cup teams, including once as a playing captain in 1963. He also was captain of the winning 1975 team.   

In addition to his professional success as a golfer, Palmer had a diverse business career in the sport, helping to complete such efforts as the founding of the Golf Channel and the construction of the first golf course in the People’s Republic of China. In 1974, Palmer purchased the Bay Hill Club and Lodge, a private golf resort in a suburb of Orlando, which is currently the venue for the PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational (renamed from the Bay Hill Invitational in 2007).

Bay Hill has been the host of the invitational since 1979, with noteworthy champs such as eight-time winner Tiger Woods, and Jason Day, who won earlier this year. The invitational tournament is next scheduled for March 13-19 of 2017.

He was also the founder and major fund-raiser for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando, Fla. More than 125,000 babies have been born at the adjoining Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, which is named after Palmer’s first wife.

Arnold Palmer George Bush Medal of FreedomPalmer shows President Bush his winning golf club grip while accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Palmer’s youngest brother, Jerry, also served in the military with the U.S Air Force in Japan and France from 1962-66. Later, Jerry become the general manager of the Latrobe Country Club In Pennsylvania, where their father, Milfred Jerome Palmer, known as Deacon or "Deke", had spent his entire career after eventually working his way to club pro. Today, Jerry still oversees this golf course where Deke Palmer taught Arnold to play golf, and the clubhouse that showcases Arnie's trophies and other historical artifacts from his professional victories around the world.

Throughout the 1990s, both Palmer and his first wife Winnie battled cancer. Palmer underwent surgery for prostate cancer in 1997. Winnie, died of cancer in 1999. On June 23, 2004, Palmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from George W. Bush who said that Palmer had "given his all, playing with style and a daring that changed the game of golf."

Palmer, one of golf's greatest ever golfers, died of at the age of 87 of complications from heart problems on September 25, 2016. He is survived by his second wife, Kit; two daughters, Amy (Roy) Saunders and Peggy (Stewart) Bryan; six grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; his brother, Jerry, and sisters, Sandra Sarni and Lois “Cheech” Tilly.

Image Credit: http://www.arnoldpalmerdesign.com/day-in-the-life-of-the-king-arnold-palmer-opens-up/

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