Arnold Palmer: Biography of 'The King'

Bio and career facts for the golf legend

Arnold Palmer in 1967
Arnold Palmer in 1967. George Freston/Fox Photos/Getty Images

Arnold Palmer was one of the most successful and popular golfers in the sport's history. He helped widen the appeal of golf beginning in the 1950s, then helped establish the Champions Tour in the early 1980s.

Fast Facts: Arnold Palmer

  • Occupation: Professional golfer
  • Nicknames: The King, Arnie
  • Born: September 10, 1929 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania
  • Died: September 25, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Key Accomplishments: Won 62 PGA Tour tournaments, including four Masters, one U.S. Open and two British Opens.
  • Spouses: Winifred Walzer (married 1954-1999); Kathleen Gawthrop (married 2005-16)
  • Children: Two daughters
  • Famous Quote: "You must play boldly to win."

Number of Tour Victories and Majors

Palmer won 62 times in PGA Tour tournaments and later, after turning 50, won another 10 times on the Champions Tour. View the list of Palmer's career wins for all of those tournament titles.

Palmer won one amateur major prior to his PGA Tour career, the 1954 U.S. Amateur. As a professional golfer, Palmer won seven majors: The Masters in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964; the U.S. Open in 1960; and the British Open in 1961 and 1962. View Palmer's major wins (and near-misses) for a full rundown on his major championship success.

Awards and Honors

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • PGA Tour money leader, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1963
  • PGA Vardon Trophy (low scoring average) winner, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1967
  • PGA Tour Player of the Year, 1960, 1962
  • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971, 1973
  • Captain, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1963, 1975
  • Captain, U.S. Presidents Cup team, 1996
  • Recipient, USGA Bob Jones Award, 1971
  • Recipient, PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award, 1998

Biography of Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer was one of the most charismatic and popular golfers to grace the game. His impact in the early days of golf on television dramatically raised the profile of the sport, and with it, the money and opportunities available to pro golfers.

Palmer was the son of a greenskeeper, and his father started him early in the game. As a teen, Palmer won five West Penn Amateur Championships. He played collegiately at Wake Forest, but gave up the game for several years when he joined the Coast Guard.

He returned to golf in the early 1950s, and eventually won the 1954 U.S. Amateur. He turned pro five months later.

Palmer led the PGA Tour in wins with four in 1957, then exploded in 1958 with his first major, the Masters Tournament. Palmer's swashbuckling, go-for-broke style, combined with an aggressive, unorthodox swing, plus movie-star looks and charisma, immediately made him a star.

He didn't disappoint, dominating the PGA Tour into the early 1960s. In 1960, he won eight times including the Masters and U.S. Open. At the Open, he made up seven strokes in the final round to win. In 1962, he had another eight wins, including the Masters and British Open.

Speaking of the British Open, Palmer decided to play it in 1960, a time when very few American golfers made the trip across the Atlantic. His participation that year yielded huge crowds and renewed interest in the oldest tournament. Palmer finished second to Kel Nagle, but he helped revitalize that Open Championship's cachet.

That was the year, too, that Palmer created the modern notion of the Grand Slam as consisting of the four professional majors: The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Palmer had already won the first two when he headed to Great Britain, and wrote a magazine article calling his quest to win all four an updated version of Bobby Jones' 1930 Grand Slam (which included two amateur championships).

From 1957 to 1963, Palmer led the Tour in wins five times and money four times. He won four scoring titles, the last in 1967. Palmer won seven majors, all of them from 1958 to 1964, and was the first 4-time winner of the Masters.

His last big year on the PGA Tour was 1971, when he won four times. The last of his 62 PGA Tour wins came in 1973, but his popularity never waned. It surged again in 1980 when Palmer joined the Champions Tour, and once again helped popularize a golf tour. One can argue that the Champions Tour would not have enjoyed its early success — might not even have grown into a full-fledged tour — had its birth not coincided with Palmer hitting his 50s, and thus being able to play senior events.

Off the course, Palmer built a business empire that included golf academies, tournament and course management companies, equipment companies, clothing lines and more. He co-founded The Golf Channel. Palmer's endorsement deals alone kept him one of sport's annual richest athletes into his 80s.

Palmer first visited Bay Hill Club and Lodge (see photos) near Orlando, Fla., in 1965, made his winter home there, and became owner of the club in 1975. In 1979, Palmer began hosting a PGA Tour event there, and today that tournament is known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Arnold Palmer was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

He remained a prominent figure and one of the most popular figures in golf until his death at age 87 in 2016, from complications due to heart disease.

Arnold Palmer Trivia

  • The name for Palmer's intensely loyal legions of fans — "Arnie's Army" — originated at the 1958 Masters. Soldiers from a nearby Army base attended, and nearly all supported Palmer, many holding homemade signs to show their support. The name "Arnie's Army" stuck.
  • Palmer has a beverage named after him: the "Arnold Palmer," of course. See Arnold Palmer Drink for details.
  • Palmer appeared on the television game show What's My Line in 1960 (watch on YouTube) and on another TV game show, I've Got a Secret (watch on YouTube), in 1963.
  • The Arnold Palmer Award (a trophy topped by a figure of Palmer) is awarded to the season-ending money leader on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour.