In this day of age, many of us probably equate the name Arnold Palmer with that delicious hybrid beverage of iced tea and lemonade. For me, in my early middle school days, it was the go-to flavor of Arizona Iced Tea, which was housed in a triumphantly tall can that featured a trio images of a classic looking man swinging his golf club. As I grew up and learned more about who this golf professional and classic drink inventor was, I soon realized how much of a legend Arnold Palmer truly was.
On Sunday evening at the UPMC Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh, the 87-year-old Arnold Palmer reportedly passed away from complications due to heart problems. From 1958 through 1964, Palmer was considered the king the golf green, known for his ferocious playing style, exhilarating victories, and good-hearted and personable nature. Known for bringing golf to the forefront of professional sporting, the legend cultivated his own following of “Arnie’s Army”, and became one of the most popular and well-respected athletes in the entire world.
In those seven seasons as a professional golfer, Palmer won seven major titles, including four Masters, one United States Open, and two British Opens. The legend collected a whopping 62 victories on the PGA Tour, which ranks fifth of all-time behind other legends such as Sam Snead, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, and Ben Hogan. On a worldwide scale, Palmer won 93 total tournaments, including the 1954 United States Amateur.
Just as Tiger Woods became the face of professional golf for our generation, the television cameras were magnetized to the charming and good-looking Palmer in his heyday. Palmer’s biggest rivals were Jack Nicklaus and South African golfer Gary Player, and together, the trio was known as the original Big Three. What made him so beloved by his fans were his humanizing characteristics, and despite becoming golf royalty, he never truly lost that gruff and humbling aesthetic that kept him in the hearts of the everyday post-WWII American.
In the 1960s, Palmer’s name was transformed into a brilliantly simple refreshing mix of iced tea and lemonade. According to his official website, the golfer requested the drink at a restaurant in Palm Springs, which was heard from a table nearby him and subsequently ordered under the name “Arnold Palmer”, which is how the beverage rose to prominence. Palmer himself invented the drink mix when he suggested that his late wife, Winifred Walzer, add lemonade to the iced tea she had made. In 2001, Palmer collaborated with the Arizona Beverage Company to sell premixed cans of the drink under his name.
Outside of becoming the face of golf and an internationally acclaimed beverage, Palmer was also an extremely charitable man. He was a major fundraiser for the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Women in Orlando, Florida, as well as the Latrobe Hospital in his Pennsylvania hometown. Despite the fact that he never won the P.G.A. Championship to complete the prestigious career Grand Slam (titles at all four major golf tournaments), Palmer remains one of the most beloved and well-respected athletes in the history of professional golfing.
Palmer is survived by his second wife Kathleen Gawthrop, along with his two daughters, Peggy Wears and Amy Saunders; two sisters, Lois Jean Tilley and Sandra Sarni; a brother, Jerry; and six grandchildren, including Sam Saunders, a professional golfer who has played in several tour events. So, today, let’s raise up our glasses of two-parts iced tea and one-part lemonade and toast to the legendary golfer and kind-hearted human being, Arnold Palmer.