Why Arnold Palmer’s personalized letters meant so much to so many

arnold palmer and one of his famous letters

Arnold Palmer's letters are a rich part of his legacy.

Courtesy "Arnold Palmer: American Hero"/Getty

The following story was excerpted with permission from “Arnold Palmer: American Hero,” © 2022 The American Golfer, Inc. You may buy the book here.


Brandt Snedeker had but a few hours at home in Franklin, Tenn., on the day that Arnold Palmer died September of 2016. Snedeker had just completed the Tour Championship in Atlanta and had a quick turnaround before he ventured to Minneapolis to play in the Ryder Cup.

Trying somehow, as so many golfers were, to absorb the shock and impact that golf’s one and only king was gone, Snedeker sat down in his home study and began to pull out some letters that Palmer had written to him through the years.

There was probably 15 of them, he said. As he read each one, studying them for their thoughtfulness and personalization, he was struck by the magnitude of Palmer’s warmth, generosity and overflowing kindness.

“I’m there looking at all the stuff that he had sent me, and thinking about the time he spent on me . . . I was a no-name guy when he started writing me letters, and I realize he’s done that for a countless number of people,” Snedeker said. “It kind of hit me, the time he put into everybody else but himself. That’s going to be something you can’t replace.”

When Snedeker made the U.S. Palmer Cup team after finishing his career at Vanderbilt in 2003, Palmer mailed a letter to him. A year earlier, when Snedeker was named an NCAA Div. 1 All-American, Palmer had mailed him a note and a picture, signing it “Best Wishes, Arnold Palmer.”

“It’s pretty cool to have all that stuff at home and go through it and realize that I’m one of probably 10,000 people that he did that for in his life. That’s pretty special.”

Ten thousand? Snedeker’s estimate could be high.

Truthfully, maybe it isn’t. Palmer sure made a lot of golfers happy.

When did it all start? His longtime assistant and office confidante, Doc Giffin, said Palmer, an old-school gentleman for whom he worked 51 years, wrote letters to tournament winners

for as long as he can remember.

Giffin was a newspaper man from Pittsburgh, in Palmer’s backyard, who first went to work for the PGA Tour and later became Palmer’s personal assistant in 1966. The two had quite a run together. Palmer won 62 times on the PGA Tour. He knew winning anywhere, on any tour, was a special accomplishment in a career. Many Monday mornings in the office across the street from Palmer’s beloved Latrobe Country Club were saved for discussions between Palmer and Giffin on what had gone on across tournaments on several tours over the weekend, such as who’d won, and how they’d earned victory.

What had started decades ago as Palmer writing handwritten congratulatory notes to winners and friends morphed into a more expansive tradition in later years. Palmer would dictate personalized letters for winners each week on the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions, LPGA and even what is now called the Korn Ferry Tour. The letters would be typed up neatly, and Palmer would then affix his famous signature to them.

“We enjoyed talking about the weekend golf activities, for sure,” Giffin said. “And I gather that it meant something to the players who got those letters. He did over the years get a lot of ‘thank you’ notes from those who received a letter and appreciated it.”

In Gee Chun winning a major on the LPGA? A letter from Palmer. Mark O’Meara starring in the 1996 Presidents Cup with Palmer serving as his captain? A letter.

one of arnold palmer's famous letters
Courtesy “Arnold Palmer: American Hero”

Wesley Bryan winning a third title on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016, earning a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour? Palmer sent him a letter. His letters weren’t solely for winners, either. If a player did something special, Palmer took notice.

As much as Palmer won, and he won some big events (his 62 PGA Tour titles included seven major championships), he lost some real heartbreakers, too. So any player who lost a championship at the wire might be a candidate for a comforting message from The King.

“From time to time, when somebody had a disappointment and didn’t win, some unusual circumstance, he would occasionally write to someone sympathetic that he didn’t win the tournament,” Giffin said.

When then-rising University of Michigan sophomore Nick Carlson made a spirited run at the 2016 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills outside Detroit, advancing all the way to the semifinals, Palmer, who’d won the 1954 U.S. Amateur champion at nearby Country Club of Detroit, recognized the accomplishment. The U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills had been contested about a month before Palmer’s death, and the letter Carlson would receive was one of the final ones mailed out from the Palmer Enterprises office.

“To get the letter, read it, and get goosebumps reading it, almost kind of in tears, you’re so shocked and humbled that someone like that would take the time to reach out to you,” Carlson said.

Jordan Spieth figures he received close to 15 letters from Palmer. He keeps them all together, and vows to frame a few of his favorites to display in his home in Texas.

“I think the first one I got was the first John Deere,” Spieth said of his first Tour win, in 2013. “It was so cool. It’s personalized and signed. But…it wasn’t just this special feeling that this letter was coming to me; it was knowing that he took the time to do that each week, and not even just to winners on our tour that week. It’s awesome.”

You’re so shocked and humbled that someone like that would take the time to reach out to you. Nick Carlson

Palmer’s impeccably neat letters — with a familiar Arnold Palmer, P.O. Box 52, Youngstown, Pa., in the bold header — were sent through the U.S. mail, though once Palmer started sending letters to winners on the LPGA, a PDF would be attached into an email and sent. With email at our fingertips daily, a letter of any kind has become a lost art. Palmer loved to create, sign and send them.

“That was just his nature,” Giffin said.

Palmer and Jack Nicklaus frequently were characterized as heated rivals on the course, but they became great friends. Nicklaus said Palmer took him under his wing as a young player and taught him a great deal about what it took to be a professional. It was Palmer who convinced Nicklaus to write a note to a tournament sponsor at the end of an event. Nicklaus began writing those notes as a PGA Tour rookie and continued the tradition into his days on what was then the PGA Senior Tour.

“It’s a nice touch that Arnold taught me,” Nicklaus said, “and I appreciated that very much.”

Following Palmer’s lead, Nicklaus sends a handwritten note to the four major winners each season, something he has done for more than 40 years. Did Jack ever receive a letter from his pal Arnold? He couldn’t remember one, though on the occasion of winning his sixth Masters in 1986 at age 46, Nicklaus did receive a Western Union telegram from Palmer.

Palmer, who was 10 years older than Nicklaus, first congratulated Nicklaus on winning his 18th major. And forever the optimist, Palmer concluded with this: “Might you think there’s a chance for a 56-year-old?”

Palmer’s history of writing letters dated to his playing days, when he’d take the time to thank sponsors after each tournament he’d play. As for the notes to players, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2013, he discussed how he and Giffin, his assistant, would get together on Mondays or Tuesdays, talk about the week’s winners, and send off a personalized message of congratulations. Palmer even confided that beyond being a great habit to continue, there existed a little extra incentive to correspond with the PGA Tour winners.

“It’s something that reminds them that we have a tournament also,” Palmer said, “and that we’d like them to show up here (to Bay Hill).”

Many times, though, there were no strings. The letters simply served as a gracious gesture to congratulate a player on a job well done. Golf is a lonely game that doles out far more disappointments than triumphant moments, and winning isn’t easy. People should take notice. Palmer always did.

one of arnold palmer's famous letters
Courtesy “Arnold Palmer: American Hero”

English pro Paul Broadhurst sorted through mail he’d received in late September 2016 while he’d returned home from the U.S. to the tiny village of Fenny Dreyton, outside Nuneaton. There

were the usual bills, and there was one piece of correspondence that immediately caught his attention.

“It’s funny, actually,” Broadhurst said, “I thought it might be an invite to the Bay Hill Classic (Arnold Palmer Invitational), that’s what I thought. It had ‘Arnold Palmer’ on the envelope, and I thought to myself, ‘Right, I’ve just won the British Seniors, I’ve just won at Pebble Beach, it may be an invite to play.’ That was my initial reaction.”

Broadhurst, who’d won the PGA Tour Champions’ Nature Valley First Tee Pebble Beach Open nine days earlier, finally opened the envelope and received a surprise that trumped any tourney invite: There was a nicely written congratulatory letter signed from Mr. Palmer — received two days after Palmer’s death.

Broadhurst’s special keepsake is one of the last three letters Palmer mailed from his Pennsylvania office. In Gee Chun and Michael Thompson, who on Sept. 18, 2016, won events on the LPGA and Web.com Tour, respectively, also received letters from Palmer dated Sept. 19, less than a week before his death. (The PGA Tour was off the week of Sept. 15-18.)

On his home walls, Broadhurst has framed photos of him competing in the Ryder Cup, a picture of him playing alongside Spanish great Seve Ballesteros, and a photo from his amateur days at the British Open, when he was paired with Jack Nicklaus.

Broadhurst regrets that he never had the chance to meet Palmer in person; he had his letter framed to occupy a place of prominence in his home.

“It’s obviously very special,” Broadhurst said. “The way he wrote it, even though he was ill, he was watching the end of the golf, or he wouldn’t have known how I did play the 18th and the delay we had playing that hole.

“I’m going to find a nice space for it on my wall.”

arnold palmer book cover

Arnold Palmer: American Hero

Arnold Palmer: American Hero is the seventh book in The American Golfer’s large coffee table book series (11″ X 14″) on the greatest in the game. In addition to the definitive history of the Ryder Cup, the series includes large lavishly produced coffee table books in this format on: Ben Hogan (2), Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and Jack Nicklaus.
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