x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A regal reward for Arnold Palmer

Honoured for his charity work, one of golf's 'Big Three' is nervous but appreciative, says John McAuley

Arnold Palmer, here giving a thumbs-up to the crowd during his last professional appearance at the Masters, was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday for his charity work.
Arnold Palmer, here giving a thumbs-up to the crowd during his last professional appearance at the Masters, was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday for his charity work.

Even Arnold Palmer, the man credited with galvanising galleries and attracting mass audiences to the game through television, confessed to being slightly unnerved by his appearance at the United States capital on Wednesday.

The seven-time major champion, having turned 83 on Monday, was in Washington, DC to receive the Congressional Gold Medal - the highest civilian award in the US.

Palmer is in illustrious company.

Since George Washington was decorated in 1776, names such as the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Sir Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa have been added to the roll call.

Byron Nelson is the only other golfer to receive the honour, recognised posthumously in 2006 for his influence on the game.

No wonder Palmer relayed his agitation earlier this week.

"I'm a little nervous. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle that," he said. "But I'll figure out a way somehow."

It is that resolve that propelled Palmer to 62 US PGA Tour victories - fifth on the all-time list - four Masters wins, two British Open triumphs and a US Open title.

He was the first to earn US$1 million (Dh3.7m) on the American circuit, while his swashbuckling style and considerable charisma lured television viewers in the 1950s and provided the platform for the popularity the sport enjoys today.

Frank Chirkinia, the veteran CBC producer, said: "Arnold dispelled the notion golf was elitist. He developed a new corps of viewers; he created Arnie's Army."

Palmer, a member of golf's "Big Three", would eventually be eclipsed on the course by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, yet his competitive urge saw him in 2004 achieve a 50th consecutive Masters appearance, at the ripe age of 74.

Nine years wiser, the magnetism that charmed a sport is still apparent.

"I can't say I'm trying to forget it," Palmer said about his 83rd birthday, "because without it I'd be in trouble."

It is not only the titles and trinkets that define his career.

His philanthropy, as evidenced in the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children - now in its 23rd year - prompted his award of the medal.

"The golf is one thing, this is another," Palmer said of his charity work, which includes the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.

"What we do with women and children is much, much greater.

"This beats everything."

"The King", however reluctantly he accepts it, deserves his coronation.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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