Gary Player remembers the many traits of Arnold Palmer: A fiercely competitive golfer who had a “slashing, dashing” style and didn’t know when he was beaten.
A man who could be “difficult and demanding” — Player said it was no secret that they had their differences. But Palmer was also a person blessed with “charisma, charm and patience.”
“He was loved by all even when they did not know him,” Player said Monday remembering his great rival.
“Arnold was many things to many people and undoubtedly made golf more popular, but to me he was simply a dear friend for over 60 years.” Player said in a statement.
Player woke up on his farm in South Africa Monday morning to learn of Palmer’s death Sunday in Pittsburgh at the age of 87.
A nine-time major winner, Player’s career was intertwined with those of Palmer and Jack Nicklaus — and maybe they were all partly defined by their “Big Three” rivalry in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. So often reunited decades later for the ceremonial tee shot at the Masters, golf recognized that those three players — led by Palmer, The King — have a special place in the game.
Player had so many vivid memories of Palmer, he said, and his recollections matched many of Nicklaus’. Those two men probably understood Palmer, a seven-time major winner and golf’s first superstar, better than most.
Like Nicklaus, Player said Palmer “transcended the game of golf.” Like Nicklaus, the South African remembered, above all, his friendship with Palmer. There were times of tension, but with Palmer it stayed on the course, Player and Nicklaus both said.
“Of course, like anybody we had our differences but these never stood in the way of our relationship and I will miss him terribly,” Player said. “He could be difficult and demanding but also blessed with charisma, charm and patience.
“He was inspirational to so many and lived his life to the fullest. He had a slashing, dashing style accompanied with a knowing smile.”
Player signed off his tribute to Palmer with: “Rest in Peace. I love you.”
Earlier Monday, organizers of the British Open also recognized Palmer for his “immeasurable” contribution to golf’s oldest major, a tournament that he won twice in the early 1960s and helped bring to international prominence.
Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the Royal & Ancient, called Palmer “a true gentleman, one of the greatest ever to play the game and a truly iconic figure in sport.”
Palmer won the British Open in 1961 and ‘62. He last played the Open in 1995, 35 years after his first appearance.
“His contribution to The Open Championship was, and remains, immeasurable,” Slumbers said in a statement. “He will be missed and forever remembered by all at The R&A and throughout the world of golf as a charismatic and global champion of our game.”
Palmer first played the British Open in 1960, finishing runner-up in what he later called one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But his appearance invigorated the British Open, which Americans had been ignoring for years.
“Without question Arnold’s participation in The Open Championship in the early 1960s was the catalyst to truly internationalize golf,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “The fact he was loved and recognized by everyone across the globe, whether they be fans of golf or not, is testament to his charismatic legacy that will live on.”
Palmer was made an honorary member of The European Tour in 1995.
“In this week of the playing of the 41st Ryder Cup in particular, we remember fondly his time as a six-time Ryder Cup player and two-time captain,” Pelley said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad time.”
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed.