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Rory McIlroy leads tributes to Arnold Palmer, golfing legend who made the sport a winner

By Doug Ferguson

Published 27/09/2016

Arnold Palmer with the Open Championship trophy after winning in 1961
Arnold Palmer with the Open Championship trophy after winning in 1961
Palmer playing in the Senior British Open at Royal County Down in 2001
Rory McIlroy with Arnold Palmer at Royal County Down

Rory McIlroy has paid tribute to golfing legend Arnold Palmer, who brought a country club sport to the masses with his hard-charging style, charisma and a commoner's touch.

Just hours after winning the FedEx Cup in Atlanta, the Co Down superstar posted a photo of himself and Palmer - who has died aged 87 - in Bay Hill Club and Lodge, near Orlando.

"Remembering the special times I spent with Mr Palmer at Bay Hill. A true pioneer for our sport. Forever remembered," McIlroy wrote.

Another US Open winner - Portrush-born Graeme McDowell - wrote on Twitter: "Just heard the news about #TheKing. Can't believe it. Amazing man and his legacy in the game and in our hearts will live forever. RIP Arnie"

And 2011 Open winner Darren Clarke, from Portrush, added: "Very sad to hear the news that Arnold Palmer passed away tonight. RIP The King - Legend."

Asked for his favourite memory of Palmer, Europe's Ryder Cup captain tweeted: "Him just being him!"

Alastair Johnson, CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, said "the King", died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, of complications from heart problems.

At ease with both presidents and the golfing public and on a first-name basis with both, Palmer was among the most important figures in golf history, going beyond his seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His good looks, devilish grin and go-for-broke manner made the elite sport appealing to one and all. And it helped that he arrived about the same time as television moved into most households, a perfect fit that sent golf to unprecedented popularity.

Jack Nicklaus, a great rival, said: "He was one of my best friends, closest friends. I will miss him greatly.

"Arnold transcended the game of golf. He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport."

Palmer was a pioneer in sports marketing, paving the way for scores of other athletes to reap in millions from endorsements.

Some four decades after his last PGA Tour win, he was still among golf's highest earners.

On the golf course, Palmer was an icon not for how often he won, but the way he did it.

He would hitch up his trousers, drop a cigarette and attack the flags. Powerful hands wrapped around the club, Palmer would slash at the ball with all his might, then twist his muscular neck and squint to see where it went. Palmer stopped playing the Masters in 2004 and hit the ceremonial tee shot each year until 2016, when age began to take its toll.

He gave golf the modern version of the Grand Slam - winning all four professional majors in one year. He came up with the idea after winning the Masters and US Open in 1960.

He was runner-up at the British Open, later calling it one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But his appearance alone invigorated the tournament, which Americans had been ignoring for years.

He was equally successful with golf course design, a wine collection, and apparel that included his famous logo of an umbrella.

He bought the Bay Hill Club & Lodge upon making his winter home in Orlando, Florida, and in 2007 the PGA Tour changed the name of the tournament to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The combination of iced tea and lemonade is known as an "Arnold Palmer".

Palmer's other love was aviation. He piloted his first aircraft in 1956, and continued flying his Cessna Citation 10 until he failed to renew his licence at 81, just short of 20,000 hours in the cockpit.

Palmer's first wife, Winning, died in 1999. They had two daughters, and grandson Sam Saunders plays on the PGA Tour.

Palmer married Kathleen (Kit) Gawthrop in 2005.

Belfast Telegraph

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