August 21, 2014

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Icon: Arnold Palmer

Professional golfer, age 79

Amy Keller | 6/1/2009


Arnold Palmer [Photo: Eric Larson]
» I was on the golf course when I was 3 years old. I had guns strapped on my side. I was a cowboy, and I had a bag and golf clubs in the bag, and I’d play cowboys and Indians and I played golf with my sister, Lois Jean. That was my youth, and it was nice.

» My father was a golf course superintendent at Latrobe Country Club all his life.

» I had numerous ideas about what I would like to be. One, I would have maybe followed my father’s footsteps and been a golf pro in a club or a golf course superintendent. Some of my other choices would have been a pilot. Maybe I would have made a career out of flying.

» I worked as a manufacturers rep, and one of my products was paint, and I sold paint. Courtesy, humbleness were things that were very important in my business.

» I won the Canadian Open in 1955, and I won $2,000. That same tournament today, you would win, you would win $1 million.

» Other than your caddie, there’s not very many people that can help you when you’re out there hitting that golf ball.

» I pursued professional golf as an occupation and went out to play the tour as a professional golfer. I certainly hoped I was going to make a living, and it worked out pretty well.

» I think the best advice I could give is: Get your game ready and go play it and don’t change it. Stick with what you started with other than minor changes. I would think that a player that is going to be successful is going to stick with what he had when he went out there. Usually that is the best thing to do, and the guys that are successful usually stay with what they started with.

» I was playing the tour full time when Jack Nicklaus turned pro and came out on the tour, and he asked me to help him in the business of playing golf, and I did everything I could. Through that we became very close friends, and we are today.

» I drove in the early years, but then I learned to fly. I bought an airplane, and I flew a lot across everywhere, wherever I went I flew — and I flew my own airplane.

» Many years ago, I drank a lot of tea, and I got a little bored with just drinking the tea. So I tried some lemonade in it, and it was really good. So when I would go out, when I would go to restaurants, I would order tea with a little glass of lemonade on the side, and then I would mix it. I enjoyed it, and other people heard me do it, and they liked it and started doing it. All of a sudden it became a real thing.

» I was in the dry-cleaning business. For many years we were in the dry-cleaning business. There are still one or two around the United States operating —?and that’s years and years ago.

» The good news is, most of the people rooted for me, and I really appreciated that. That encouraged me to play better and to really try to play better.

» A golfer doesn’t have a contract with anything. He has to go earn every time he tees it up. There’s no salary — no long-, set-term salaries — and each week he has to prove himself over again. Whatever he earns depends on his ability to play the game on a particular occasion. And as I say, there’s no guarantees. He could win a tournament one week and then play for a couple, three, four weeks in a row and really not make much money at all. It’s a touch-and-go situation with the golfer. Sure they make a lot of money, but they are at risk for not making or may not be making anything — and a lot of them don’t.

» I didn’t hang on the beauty of my swing. I hung on the fact that it was effective. It did what I needed it to do to win golf tournaments.

» I enjoyed the driver. I enjoyed hitting the driver. In my youth, I was a long driver. I could hit the ball a long way.

» I did a little golf course in Cape May, N.J., while I was in the Coast Guard. I really had no equipment. I had a mower, a shovel and a wheelbarrow and that was about what I used to design a little nine-hole golf course so that the guys who were golfers on the base could go out and hit golf balls around.

» Staying the best golfer in the world was one of my major challenges. That was a tough one. Continuing to win golf tournaments was always a challenge — and it is for anyone who plays the game.

» My father was very down on smoking, from the time I was a little boy. So I was very conscious of his dislike of smoking and I, like a lot of kids, smoked anyway. I started playing the tour, and I smoked. I smoked excessively. In 1961-62, when the surgeon general came out against smoking, I took that very seriously and along with my father’s feeling about it, I stopped smoking on the golf course in 1962 because of the influence it had on young people. From then on, I only smoked privately. I was a closet smoker, so to speak. For about eight years, I was kind of what you would call a social smoker. I didn’t smoke when I was working or playing golf and then in 1971, I quit totally, and I haven’t had a cigarette since.

» I find myself dreaming I’m in tournaments from time to time — and some of the shots I hit in my dreams. I’ve even missed a couple shots in dreams.

» I like to know people, and I like to talk to them.

» I play a couple times a week and hit balls quite frequently.

» It’s always very gratifying to win, and the emotion is a feeling of working hard and accomplishing something that is rewarding to the work that you’ve done, and I think that’s probably the most important thing that you can do is get the feeling of satisfaction — that the work and the time that you’ve put into doing something has paid off.

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