26 Sep 2016

Palmer a game changer

6:26 pm on 26 September 2016

Former New Zealand golfer Phil Tataurangi says professional golfers will forever be indebted to the late great Arnold Palmer.

US golfer Arnold Palmer.

US golfer Arnold Palmer. Photo: AFP

The 87-year-old died in Pittsburgh today where he had been undergoing heart tests since last week.

Palmer, who was part of the 'Big Three' with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, won seven major titles, including four at the Masters, two at the British Open and one at the US Open.

Tataurangi said Palmer's greatest impact on the game was off the course.

"I think you can look back at Arnold Palmer and the way he brought the popularity to the game, the commercialization of the game and corporate impact on the sport of golf and you can most probably directly attribute the success of the sport nowadays to his doings over five decades ago."

Tataurangi said a good example of this came today when over $40 million was handed out in prize money on the PGA Tour for the season-long Fedex Cup competition.

Phil Tataurangi

Arnold Palmer playing at the Masters in 2003. Photo: AFP

One of Tataurangi's fondest memories of Palmer was when he was paired with "The King" in his first two rounds at the Masters back in 2003.

"Being paired with Arnold was like being paired with your grandfather in one of the biggest tournaments in the world.

"It was a pretty cherished memory, he was long past his best but to be part of some of the welcomes he received at just about every green over the course of 36 holes was something very special," Tataurangi said.

While Palmer didn't make the cut, Tataurangi said he battled till the end which epitomized Palmer's persona.

Fellow New Zealander Sir Bob Charles also had a close relationship with "The King".

Palmer won the British Open two years in a row in 1961 and 1962 but it was Charles who denied him the three-peat, winning at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in 1963.

Sir Bob Charles.

Sir Bob Charles and Arnold Palmer often played against each other throughout their illustrious careers. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

In 1966 he came to New Zealand with large crowds turning out to watch him play Charles at the Middlemore Golf Club in Auckland.

His global popularity was underlined with a drink named in his honour, as well as an airport, a golf tournament, hospitals, and streets.

Palmer received the two highest civilian honours in the United States - the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The King's last public golf shot was the ceremonial tee shot at last year's British Open.

-RNZ

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