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On what would have been Arnold Palmer’s 90th birthday, here are 90 reasons we love him

September 10, 2016

Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87 on Sept. 25, 2016, in Pittsburgh, Pa. Palmer was a true legend of the game and revolutionized the sport. With a tip of the cap to Palmer on what would have been his 90th birthday, here are 90 reasons we still love The King.

1. His smile.

2. His tan — even the sun loved him.

3. The way he hitched up his pants.

4. Arnie’s Army

5. His “comic book arms,” in the words of Arnie & Jack author Ian O’Connor.

6. The sight of him sitting in his cart, just off the 18th green at Bay Hill, waiting to congratulate the winner of his tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

7. His earnest and ultra classy handshake with Jack Nicklaus after the Golden Bear beat him in front of his friends and family at the U.S. Open at Oakmont in ’62.

8. His resilience. Four weeks after his 1962 U.S. Open heartache at Oakmont, a de facto home game, Palmer crossed the Atlantic to win the ’62 British Open at Royal Troon by six over Kel Nagle—the widest victory margin in 33 years.

9. His eternal warmth and decency to everyone he meets, no matter their station. In A Good Walk Spoiled, John Feinstein tells of Palmer making the cut at Bay Hill in 1991 at age 61. Peter Jacobsen went to a Winn-Dixie and asked for a cake that could feed 200 and would be ready in the morning. “Impossible,” the guy at the supermarket said. “But it’s for Arnold Palmer,” Jacobsen said. The Winn-Dixie sourpuss brightened. “Do you need it tonight?”

10. His astounding sportsmanship.

11. His Horatio Alger background: A child of the Depression, he started like everybody else, by using hand-me-down clubs from his parents. He later won the Latrobe Country Club caddie tournament five times.

12. After growing up as a mere employee’s son whose status was considerably below that of the members, he bought Latrobe Country Club in 1971.

13. His barnstorming: Arnold and Winnie each had to borrow $500 from their parents when they started in 1955. They used the money to buy a 19-foot-long trailer that Palmer likened to a loaf of bread, albeit one with a small kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

14. He spearheaded the golf boom in the latter half of the 20th century.

15. Winnie! Arnold’s parents called her, “Grace Kelly come to Latrobe.”

16. His wanderlust. As a kid, Palmer built planes out of balsa wood. As an adult, he took up flying after a friend of a friend took him up in a Piper Cub. Palmer went on to own several planes, flew with the Blue Angels, landed a military jet on the Eisenhower aircraft carrier, and set a record by circumnavigating the globe in a Lear 36 in less than 58 hours.

17. He embraced fans who approached him with a shared memory even if he had no recollection of them. “I just wanted to make his day,” he once explained to Orville Moody after being approached by a man who claimed to be a former pro-am partner.

18. His pride. The first time Palmer played with Jack Nicklaus, at an exhibition match in 1958, then-amateur Nicklaus beat him badly in a long-drive contest. Stung, Palmer went on to shoot 62, beating Nicklaus by six.

19. His can-do attitude. The last to serve as a Ryder Cup playing captain, Palmer won four points while captaining Team USA to victory at East Lake in 1963.

20. He was a Ryder Cup hero. After going 5-0 as the U.S. routed GB&I, again, at the 1967 Ryder Cup at Champions Golf Club, he gave the Brits a ride in his plane and caught hell from the FAA. He won a whopping 23 points in his Ryder Cup career, a record until Nick Faldo surpassed it in 1997.

21. His autograph. It was perfect — every time.

22. His perfect blend of humility and confidence. Upon running into Roger Maris at a ceremony to name the 1960 Hickok Belt award winner, signifying the professional athlete of the year, Maris asked Palmer, “What the hell are you doing here?” Upon winning the diamond-encrusted, alligator-skin belt, Palmer brushed past Maris on his way out the banquet door and asked, “What the hell are you doing here?”

23. Golf loved Palmer, and he loved it back. He loved the game so much that it wasn’t until 2005 that he didn’t make a single start in a Tour event, and he would play in a regular game at Bay Hill for years to come.

24. He seemed to the win the Masters every other year, and actually did for a stretch: 1958, ’60, ’62, ’64.

25. He was the first Masters champ to be invited to join Augusta National.

26. He summed up his entire glorious career in one mighty blow, which remains one of the most famous shots off all time. Seven shots behind going into the last round of the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, Palmer drove the first green on the way to a 65 to beat then-amateur Jack Nicklaus by two and capture his first major title.

27. He was Tiger before Tiger — the rising tide that lifts all boats, riveting audiences, attracting TV cameras and juicing prize money.

28. He transcended golf, making the cover of Time in 1960.

29. He was Associated Press “Athlete of the Decade” in the 60s.

30. Palmer entertained fans with more U.S. Open near misses (nine other top-five finishes besides his lone win in 1960) than even Phil Mickelson.

31. He had 92 professional victories. Ninety. Two.

32. He won 62 times on the PGA Tour, which is fifth all time behind Sam Snead (82), Tiger Woods (79), Jack Nicklaus (73) and Ben Hogan (64).

33. He won at least once a year for 17 consecutive years, a record he shares with Jack.

34. He twice won eight times in a single season (1960, ’62).

35. He won 29 times from 1960 to ’63.

36. He had more success in his 30s (44 wins) than any other player in Tour history.

37. He played in an era that wasn’t all about the money. (Career earnings: $2 million.)

38. He drew a crowd even with nothing on the line but pride. As the charismatic Seve Ballesteros won the 1980 Masters, many fans abandoned the winner for the match between Palmer, 50, and Nicklaus, 40. Palmer won, 69-73.

39. He helped start the senior tour (10 career wins) in 1980.

40. His appeal will endure forever, and his game lasted almost that long. Palmer briefly led the 1983 Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open in the final round — at age 53.

41. He helped launch the Skins Game, in 1984, with NBC’s Don Ohlmeyer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson.

42. He helped convince American pros it was worthwhile to cross the Atlantic and play in the British Open, winning the tournament in 1961 and ’62.

43. The classy Tam O’Shanter cap he wore while playing the British Open.

44. He forgave and forgot. To wit: He formed a friendship with New York sports columnist Jimmy Cannon after initially bristling at Cannon’s assertion that golfers weren’t athletes.

45. He formed an almost unbeatable two-man team with rival Jack Nicklaus at Ryder Cups, Canada Cup, World Cup and PGA team championships.

46. He never won the PGA, finishing second three times, but he never gave up.

47. His goofy swing and even goofier follow-through and putting stance gave the rest of us hope. Said Palmer, “My dad [Deacon] said the quickest way to wind up back in Latrobe was by making changes to your swing.”

48. He bridged the generational divide.

49. He had a yellow Labrador named Mulligan.

50. He had a dentist friend named Howdy.

51. He had a publicist named Doc.

52. His crushing losses. At the 1961 Masters, Palmer came to the 18th hole needing a par to win and a bogey to get into a playoff. “You won it, boy,” friend George Low told him just off the 18th fairway as he shook Palmer’s hand. “Great going.” Palmer double-bogeyed the hole to lose to Gary Player.

53. He was great copy. “I made a mistake,” he said after celebrating his 1961 Masters win too early, losing focus and making double bogey on 18 to lose. “Are you going to tell me that Babe Ruth never made a mistake? Or Hogan never made a mistake? Or Nicklaus?”

54. He was an equipment geek. He tinkered obsessively, won tournaments in which he used a different set of irons each day.

55. He helped launch IMG and brokered the merger between golf and corporate America as we know it.

56. He was the first player to win the U.S. Open and U.S. Senior Open (1981).

57. He loved golf so deeply, he moved everyone else to tears when he said farewell to the U.S. Open in 1994 at Oakmont.  “What other people may find in poetry,” he said, “I find in the flight of a good drive.”

58. His generosity of spirit. According to Palmer and Nicklaus biographer Ian O’Connor, Palmer sent the following note after Jack won the 1986 Masters at age 46: “That was fantastic! Congratulations. Do you think there’s any hope for a 56-year-old?”

59. He captained Team USA’s victorious 1996 Presidents Cup team.

60. He shot his age (71!) in the fourth round of the 2001 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

61. He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009, becoming only the second golfer (Byron Nelson) to receive the honor.

62. When he turned 80, the party lasted two weeks, with celebrations in Orlando; Pittsburgh; Laurel Valley, Pa.; and Latrobe, Pa.

63. He threw out the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates game.

64. He made the cover of GQ as one of the “25 coolest athletes of all time.”

65. The umbrella logo — understated cool.

66. He made motor oil look cool.

67. He made smoking look cool. (Unfortunately.)

68. His sometimes contentious but still cordial friendship with Jack Nicklaus, who put the green jacket on Palmer in 1964, and who was helped by Palmer as he donned the green jacket in ’65.

69. He even quit smoking with panache, promising at a party in 1970 to pay his friends $500 apiece if he lapsed.

70. His sense of humor. After winning the 1973 Bob Hope—his last victory on the PGA Tour, as it turned out—Palmer danced with Jack Nicklaus, who wore a curly blonde wig.

71. His friendship with Frank Sinatra…

72. and Bob Hope…

73. and President Eisenhower…

74. and Muhammad Ali.

75. His tough but lovable father Deacon, who in lean times served as both superintendent and head pro at Latrobe Country Club.

76. His name will live forever in the Arnold Palmer Invitational (ahem, Presented by MasterCard).

77. Bay Hill Club and Lodge, which he built from practically nothing.

78. The Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando, Fla.

79. Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation.

80. Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Pa., was the Westmoreland County Airport until Palmer helped expand and modernize it, adding, among other features, a 7,000-foot runway.

81. His grandson, Sam Saunders, who plays on the PGA Tour.

82. The ubiquitous, refreshing Arnold Palmer lemonade/iced tea drink, now bottled by the Arizona Beverage Company.

83. The halls of the Golf Channel, which he helped start.

84. The King & Bear course at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., plus hundreds of other Arnold Palmer Design courses worldwide.

85. His congeniality even in tough times. Palmer was too physically frail to attend the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, but he still had lunch at nearby Latrobe Country Club with four reporters and insisted they stick around until the homemade chocolate-chip cookies were ready.

86. His vitality. In Arnie & Jack, author Ian O’Connor writes of an outing during the Bay Area earthquake of 1989, when Palmer stood under a swaying tree and Chi-Chi Rodriguez ran to his side, seeking safety next to “the man who would never die.”

87. His club collection. He was said to own more than 10,000 clubs, including roughly 2,000 putters.

88. That club warehouse is a golf lover’s dream.

89. His family adores him.

90. He’s the King. Forever.