Arnold Palmer: My Life in Pictures

December 23, 2016

If a picture is worth a thousand words, my office in Latrobe, Pa., must be worth a million,” said Arnold Palmer in 2007, when, at age 77, he sat with GOLF to revisit his life, as told through dozens of personal photographs, many of which lined the walls of his home office. “A photo takes you back in time,” he said. “When I see a snapshot from, say, 50 years ago, I remember every detail from that day: the smell of the grass, the applause of the gallery. I’m lucky. My life has been filled with wonderful people and moments.” Here are a few of those fond memories, framed, by Arnie, forever. A version of this article first appeared in the January 2007 issue of GOLF.


“That’s my sister Lois and me at Latrobe Country Club, where my dad was the pro. I’m 6. Our house was on the edge of the sixth tee, and I used to like to watch the players tee off. I usually had a toy pistol on my side—I was a cowboy. One day, one of the ladies said, “Arnie, if you’ll hit my ball across that ditch, I’ll give you a nickel.” It was about 120 yards away, and I thought, “Wow! A nickel!” I cleared the ditch without any trouble. It felt great.”

MORE: Buy Sports Illustrated’s Arnold Palmer Commemorative


“Here I am with Dwight Eisenhower and Cliff Roberts, [on] the Monday after I’d won the [1960] Masters. Cliff intimidated a lot of people, but he had a great sense of humor. One year he had workmen construct a platform below the surface of the pond on 16. He hit his shot, then walked across the lake, so everyone could see he really did walk on water. And Ike was like a second father to me. We once played an exhibition, [and] I’d noticed how his elbow flew on his backswing, so I told him to keep it tucked as close to his body as he could. I looked over during the match to see blood all over his shirt! He’d been wearing a metal [belt] buckle, and tucked his elbow so tight he rubbed the skin off his arm.”


“Buddy Worsham and I met at a junior tournament in Detroit and became great friends. We were like brothers. He got accepted to Wake Forest first and helped get me a scholarship. It was partly because of him that I became one of the country’s top young golfers. He was flamboyant. We laughed, drank beer, played golf. One night he invited me to go to a dance, but I didn’t feel like it. He went without me and died in a car wreck that night. I was distraught. I didn’t want to stay [at Wake Forest] without Bud, so I joined the Coast Guard. That changed the course of my life.”


“This was a moment of pure—what’s the word?—exhilaration. I had just won the [1960] U.S. Open, after being seven strokes back, so I tossed my cap in the air. One of my happiest days.”


“Here’s [my late wife] Winnie and me at Pebble Beach for the Crosby. It snowed that year, heavy enough to make snowballs, and Winnie decided to horse around. I love the way she’s looking at me in this photo [inset] at the 1955 Houston Open. When we weren’t together on the road, I’d start each call by saying, “Hiya, lover.” I still think about her every day.”


“Jack had beaten me in the playoff [in the 1962 U.S. Open, at Oakmont]. It was a bitter pill. He played well. I didn’t. And I really wanted to win in front of the home crowd. I’m smiling and genuinely happy for him, because we were friends and I had helped him prior to that. But I’m smiling through the pain. Maybe I helped him too much.”


“I love flying. I didn’t used to. It made me apprehensive, but you have to get over your fears, so I started taking lessons. By 1958, I was flying to many Tour stops. I snapped this picture of myself over Birkdale, before the “76 British Open—the camera was just behind the propeller. Some of my favorite moments occurred in the air. In the “60s I was on a jetliner going to Rochester, N.Y. It was just me and the crew. Well, the captain and I got to talking. He switched off the lights to give us a better look at Niagara Falls. And then he flips off three of the four engines, to show that one engine was enough to power the plane. I was impressed. His name, no kidding, was Captain Hap Hazard.”


“Here’s me giving a lesson to my grandson Sam at Isleworth when he was about 6. Now he’s a heck of a player. I’ve taught Sam like my father taught me. I gave him a good, sound grip and told him what Pap told me: “Put your hands on the club like that and don’t ever change “em.” How far past me does he drive it? Oh, let’s not talk about that. Let’s get on to more pleasant topics.”


“This is my favorite picture of me and my dad, at Pinehurst in the “60s. You can really tell that we were buddies. I was always trying to impress him when we played together. I liked playing with him, but I’m not sure how much he liked it because he was always watching what I was doing, giving me constructive criticisms. He was a tough guy. Heck, it was tough to get him to pose for a picture like this.”


“This was taken after what turned out to be my last win on Tour, at the “73 Hope. I beat Jack by two strokes. I walked into the post-tournament party, knocked into a table, bumped into this lady and knocked her wig right off. She had a hairnet on underneath! To take some pressure off her, I picked up the wig and put it on. Jack was watching, so I walked over to him and asked him to dance, and we hit the dance floor. We were rivals, sure, but we had fun together.”


“That’s the clubhouse balcony at Augusta at my last Masters [in 2004]. It was a tough week, ending my career as a competitive player there, knowing that I wouldn’t go out and try to win one more. Yep, it’s hell to get old.”