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All Hail the King: Arnie at 80

Arnold Palmer
Walter Iooss Jr./SI

Everyone remembers the first time they met Arnold Palmer — even Jack Nicklaus. To celebrate his 80th birthday, we asked those whose lives have been enriched by Palmer — friends, employees and nodding acquaintances — to share their stories of golf's most charismatic star.

Arnold Palmer, who turns 80 on September 10, has probably played more public rounds of golf than anyone in history. Among his achievements: 92 worldwide victories, six Ryder Cups, four Masters titles, two British Open wins and a 1960 U.S. Open victory that has been called the greatest ever. Having hooked a nation on his freewheeling style of play, Palmer then answered three decades' worth of curtain calls on the Champions Tour, at Skins Games and, more recently, as the ceremonial first-ball striker at the Masters.

Palmer's brilliant game was never hidden. Every belted drive, improbable recovery shot and pressure putt — not to mention the devastating collapses that cost him several majors — received the warranted ooohs and aaahs, the cheers and groans. It says something about Palmer, therefore, that a recent round of interviews with golf notables yielded few memories of miracle shots or historic matches. That's because Palmer's legacy is his personality, an amalgam of competitiveness, magnetism and warmth. And if you believe these voices, it was ever so.

Jack Nicklaus His greatest rival
The first time I saw Arnold was in 1954. I was 14 years old and playing in the Ohio Amateur. I came off the golf course in pouring rain, and there was one guy on the practice range hitting 9-irons about 10 feet high, taking big divots. Strong as an ox, just killing the ball. I watched him for a half-hour in the rain because I was interested in his swing and how he was moving the ball, these low draws. Somebody said, "Oh, that's our defending champion, Arnold Palmer." He was still hitting when I left.

Dow Finsterwald 1958 PGA Champion and longtime friend
His hands were so large that he looked like he was holding a toothpick. His swing? Well, he hit at it hard and fast. If you filmed Arnold and looked at it frame by frame, he was as solid as any player through the hitting area. His father had taught him well.

Dean Reinmuth Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher
The first time I saw him was at Tam O'Shanter [in Chicago] when I was a young kid watching the Western Open. Some guy was moving in the crowd, and I remember Arnold's head popping up and his eyes locking on the guy like a laser. Oh, man, everybody just froze.

Bert Harbin Longtime Palmer friend
We lived on Aumond Road in old Augusta, and for 19 years we rented our house to Arnie for Masters week. He liked to repair clubs, so I bolted a vise to a big old table and put it in the garage. If Arnie teed off in the afternoon, there'd be 20 of us out in the garage watching him fiddle with his clubs.

Jason Gore Winner, in 2005, of the 84 Lumber Classic
When I was 11, my mom and I met Mr. Palmer at Latrobe Country Club. He took a picture with us, signed a scorecard, and then he said, "Son, I'm going to go hit balls. Would you like to watch?" I watched for 45 minutes. And from that point on I knew I wanted to be a professional golfer.

Bev Norwood Writer and a close Palmer friend for 31 years
Arnold's final British Open at Troon — not his final Open, but his final one at Troon — was in 1989. On the 16th hole of a practice round, a photographer asked if he might take a picture of Arnold beside the famous plaque of him hitting the shot that won the Open. Arnold said, "Sure." So they go look for a few minutes and cannot find the plaque. Finally, Arnold turns to his longtime caddie, Tip Anderson. He says, "Tip, where is that damn plaque?" And Tip says, "Mr. Palmer, it's 120 miles south of here at Royal Birkdale."

Jimmy Roberts NBC Sports interviewer and essayist
When he said goodbye at Oakmont, we all knew the significance of it. I was working for ESPN at the time, and Arnie lost it. Just totally, totally lost it. I've interviewed hundreds of athletes who cried, but this was Arnold Palmer at Oakmont. I remember feeling kind of embarrassed and very unsure of myself. How do you react? Do you try to console Arnold Palmer?

Leonard Kamsler Golf photographer
It's hard to take a bad picture of Cypress Point, and it's hard to take a bad picture of Arnold Palmer.

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