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  The King  
It was the spring of 1958 when Arnold Palmer burst onto the scene with his victory at The Masters.  The following year, he won the U.S. Open Championship and never looked back.  His charm and charisma made believers out of golf fans everywhere.  With his cashmere sweaters, beltless slacks and black and white wingtip shoes, Arnie was like a movie star turned golfer.  He had broad shoulders, huge forearms, slim waist and was strikingly good looking.  The late sportswriter Jim Murray once described him as "stronger than truckstop coffee." 

Affectionately known as "Arnies Army," enormous crowds followed him during play and created a mystique that remained with him throughout his career.  At that time, golf on television was in its
infancy and Palmer became it's star.  He ignited the popularity of golf more than any other player in history.

Arnold Palmer retired from the PGA Tour in 2004 after winning 6 majors and 62 PGA Tour events.  His final Champions Tour event occured in 2006.  Known for his swashbuckling style, Palmer surprised everyone, during a news conference at his last U.S. Open appearance, when he became so emotional he could barely speak.  He was overcome with emotion as he covered his face with a towel and wept openly.

As a member of over 100 golf clubs around the world, Palmer still plays golf four times a week, dividing his time between his own two courses, Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania and Bay Hill in Florida.  When Palmer plays, he can be a real stickler about the rules with one exception. "He violates the 14 club rule consistently" says longtime playing partner Jim Bryan.  "Palmer carries two bags on his cart, 35 to 50 clubs in any one round," Bryan says.

Bruce Walters, a car dealer from Kentucky, estimates he has played over 1,000 rounds of golf with Palmer.  For Walters "playing golf with Arnie is surreal."  "I think about it almost every time we go to the first tee," 
One of his most memorable days came when he celebrated his 37th birthday.  "It was the classic case of what to get the man who has everything," said Doc Giffin, Palmer's personal assistant.

Giffin envisioned a visit from President Dwight D. Eisenhower but how do you transport a retired president from Gettysburg to Latrobe, PA. and keep it a secret?  It was a logistical nightmare but the solution was to send Palmer's private plane to pick up Ike and let Mamie, Ike's wife, ride over with the Secret Service (Mamie had a fear of flying).  Palmer's pilot at the time, Darrell Brown, swung the jet wide of the house, coming in for a landing in Latrobe.  Palmer still didn't have a clue. 

"I got a plane just like that one," Palmer said, as he and Winnie (Palmer's wife) stood in the front yard.  They moved inside, soon to be followed by a knock at the front door.  Palmer opened it to find Eisenhower, wearing a leather jacket and holding an old canvas bag.  "You wouldn't have room to put up an old man for the night, would you?"  Ike said.  Mamie arrived later and the Eisenhowers spent the night. 

All of us have been touched by what Arnold Palmer did for the game of golf.  His imense popularity brought golf to the forefront of American life.  His humility in victory and graciousness in defeat has taught us that golf is just a game and nothing more.  His charitable work and wilingness to help those in need, sets an example for all to follow.

On September 10th, 2009 Arnold Palmer will celebrate his 80th Birthday. As a long standing and proud member of "Arnies Army," I proudly salute 'The King.'

by Gary J. Zalimeni
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