The golf world gathered to say ‘goodbye’ to The King today.
Mourners packed into Saint Vincent College Basilica in Latrobe, Pa., on Tuesday morning to pay their respects to golf legend and American icon Arnold Palmer, who died on Sept. 25 at age 87.
The public memorial following Palmer’s funeral last week drew hundreds of well-wishers, among them family, friends and famous names in the game Palmer brought to the masses through a professional career that spanned six decades and a personality that endeared him to millions of fans around the world.
The ceremonial honor guard for the U.S. Coast Guard, in which Palmer served for three years from 1950-53 before turning his attention to competitive golf, opened the proceedings, which were led by former LPGA commissioner Charlie Mechem, Palmer’s neighbor and lifelong friend.
“Sadness and grief is not the tone that Arnold would want for this day,” Mechem said. “Think of him striding up the fairway, hitching up his pants and giving a thumbs up. I want you to smile because he always smiled.”
The roster of speakers including PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, Palmer’s grandson Sam Saunders, Cessna chairman Russ Meyer, sportscaster Jim Nantz, R&A executive Peter Dawson, Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus and LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam. They shared varied stories from Palmer’s life — some funny, some sad, all of them celebrating a beloved figure on and off the course.
Finchem hailed Palmer as a sporting pioneer who revolutionized the game for the benefit of future generations of professional golfers.
“I don’t believe that when we talk about Arnold’s legacy, that it’s a legacy that’s in the past,” Finchem said. “I refuse to think he’s totally left us.”
Palmer’s friend and rival Jack Nicklaus, whose head-to-head duels with The King are the stuff of legend, described Palmer as a mentor who showed him the ropes on Tour even as they battled on the course, the genesis of a lifelong friendship.
“We competed in everything, from majors to endorsements. You name it, we likely competed for it,” Nicklaus said. “But if there was ever a problem, I knew Arnold had my back, and he knew I had his. You don’t lose a friend of almost 60 years and not feel an enormous loss. But remember when Arnold Palmer touched your life and touched your heart and please don’t forget why.”
But perhaps the most moving remembrance came from Tour pro Sam Saunders, Palmer’s grandson, who offered a glimpse of the man away from the spotlight.
“My memories of him as a grandfather are here in Latrobe,” Saunders said. “It wasn’t watching him win golf tournaments. It was watching him ride sleds down the hill. Those are the memories we got to see. We all had the opportunity to see Arnie the legend, the golfer. But we had the unique opportunity to see him at home, in cutoff sweatpants. We loved that man as much as you loved the man you saw on TV. There wasn’t a big difference.”