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Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer

Review

Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer

The week of April 3rd marked this year’s opening event of the grand slam of professional golf, as the Masters Tournament was played for the 84th time at Augusta National Golf Club. Since Bobby Jones designed and constructed the course in his beloved home state of Georgia, Augusta National has been the only home of the Masters. The 2017 event carried a certain poignancy as it marked the first time since 1955 that Arnold Palmer was not in attendance. He died on September 25, 2016. If the Masters was Jones’ dream, then Palmer was the man who made that dream come true.

Palmer’s early Masters victories in 1958 and 1960 coincided with the early days of televising golf tournaments. As viewers watched on tiny black and white television screens in 1960, Palmer birdied the final two holes to defeat Ken Venturi by one stroke. The following year, on a late Monday afternoon, they watched in horror as Palmer took a 6 on the final hole and lost a one-stroke lead to Gary Player. Arnold Palmer and the Masters became a golf marriage that lasted for decades.

With Palmer’s passing, there have been countless stories of his life presented to his adoring golfing public. After all, in the 1960s, as he marched across golf venues around the world, “Arnie’s Army” was legendary. Every professional golfer in every country understands that the world of professional golf owes incredible gratitude to Palmer. His first professional victory was the Canadian Open in 1955, for which he received $2,400. Sergio Garcia, this year’s winner of the Masters, received $1.98 million.

"Palmer deserved a biography commensurate with his impact on American sports. Tom Callahan has given him all of that and more."

The cover of Tom Callahan’s ARNIE: The Life of Arnold Palmer, shows Palmer holding that Canadian Open trophy and smiling. That smile, his ease with fans and his go-for-broke attitude were the public personification of the man who so many people revered. But Palmer was much more than that. He was a kind and giving man who signed autographs for his fans at every opportunity and personally answered every letter he received over the course of his career. He created a multi-million-dollar golfing empire.

Callahan has not written a traditional biography. Rather than following the chronology of Palmer’s life, his chapters focus on the significant years in his career and non-golfing life. Readers are reminded of the important events --- from Palmer’s four Masters wins to his victory in the 1960 U.S. Open. It was Palmer’s only Open championship, and in the final round he authored a come-from-behind 65 that made up a seven-stroke deficit. This came after he told a sports reporter that if he shot a 65 he would win the tournament. That victory cemented the Palmer who could potentially come from far back in the field to win. It was the Palmer charge.

The joy of Callahan’s biography is not that we discover anything new about Palmer’s career. Instead, we learn of his interactions with fellow golfers and his adoring public. In almost all cases, it was a mutually shared adoration. Golfing legends like Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, along with contemporary stars including Tiger Woods, appear on the pages of ARNIE. Their lives intertwined with Palmer mostly for good. The only golfer who never developed a relationship with him was Ben Hogan. “Hogan never called me by name,” Palmer said in one of his many interviews with Callahan.

Perhaps Palmer’s greatest accomplishment was his connection with people who had little interest in golf. Taking the game to those who were not country club golfers changed the sports world. Palmer was a celebrity. He won in a big fashion and lost the same way. On weekends across America, people would wonder what Arnie did today.

Any great biographical writer must capture not only the life but also the times of his subject. ARNIE accomplishes precisely that goal, which is why it belongs on your shelf along with the work of great sportswriters such as John Updike, David Maraniss and Jane Leavy. Palmer deserved a biography commensurate with his impact on American sports. Tom Callahan has given him all of that and more.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on April 14, 2017

Arnie: The Life of Arnold Palmer
by Tom Callahan

  • Publication Date: April 4, 2017
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062439723
  • ISBN-13: 9780062439727