Nick Faldo would run into Arnold Palmer a couple of times a year, and every encounter was always the same.
“There was always that glint in his eye and he’d look at me and he’d shake your hand and he’d grab hold of the back of your arm and (say), ‘How are you, boy?’” Faldo recalled fondly on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “He just loved being young. He’d love youngsters. He definitely felt a lot younger than his age. I remember thinking that when I saw him at St. Andrews. He was about 80 – same as my father – and he (still had) this big smile and was happy to see you. That was always so nice. He would greet everybody so warmly.”
Palmer, one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game, died Sunday in Pittsburgh. He was 87.
Although he is gone, Palmer leaves quite a legacy.
“He was all about sportsmanship, honesty and carrying on the integrity of our game,” Faldo said. “That’s what he said: We are the custodians of this great game, and we pass it on to the next generation. We’ve got to keep all those traditions going. We heard that speech many times. If you beat somebody, be humble about it. If you lose, you got to be able to take it on the chin. He had some amazing losses when he would go for broke. But that’s what the public loved about him. He literally rolled up his sleeve and belted the ball in his own style.”
Faldo, 59, grew up watching Palmer and his contemporaries and would imitate their swings in practice. He would even pretend he was playing against them.
“He was key to British golf,” said Faldo, who would go on to win six majors. “There wasn’t many pros coming over in the ’50s, American professionals coming over to play the Open because it was too expensive. By the time they won, it would still cost them money.”
But then Palmer started playing – and winning – overseas. He won back-to-back Open Championships in 1961-62 and finished with seven major championships. As Palmer succeeded, the game grew in popularity.
“That’s what he did for the game of game,” Faldo said. “That was the same for the big three: Jack (Nicklaus), Arnold and Gary (Player) going literally around the globe spreading the word of golf.”
Indeed, Palmer had a way of humanizing golf. He took an elitist sport and made it more blue collar.
“He was a blue-collar boy,” Faldo said. “His dad was in the steel mills. Look at the photographs. He literally rolled his sleeves up and went and played. He’s got huge strong arms and he played with that strength. Those photographs, those black-and-whites form the ’60s when everybody is in the same sunglasses, he’s on his follow through, everybody’s watching the ball fly – they’re going to be iconic. That’s what he did. He brought the game to the masses.”