August 26, 2009
With Arnold Palmer's 80th birthday on the horizon, we're honoring the man, the myth, the legend with posts on all elements of his life and times. Today, the debt that seniors golf owes him.
The Arnold Palmer of the '80s was like the Michael Jordan of today -- past his prime, but still a legend who could command audiences with his every move. And as he, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player turned from young bucks to old -- well, let's not say goats, that'd be mean -- old lions, golf fans and officials alike realized they needed to do something to keep these icons in the public eye.
While older golfers had played in the Senior PGA for decades, it wasn't until 1978 and a "Legends of Golf" tournament that anyone started thinking the idea of watching old guys play had any validity. Two years later, in 1980, the Senior PGA Tour was born, and Arnold Palmer was one of its earliest drawing cards. Arnie's Army followed their hero on tour once again, and he repaid them by racking up wins in five senior majors from 1980 to 1985.
Palmer isn't the winningest golfer on the Senior -- now Champions -- Tour; with only 10 wins, he's far behind Hale Irwin's 45. But his endorsement of the concept during his years on the seniors circuit, from 1980 to 1988, took golf from being just a young player's game to being everyone's game.
(But if it makes you feel any better, he'd probably be as annoyed at the old dudes in front of your foursome as you are.)