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Wake Forest's Arnold Palmer passes at age 87

Arnold Palmer, who became the first international golf superstar after starring in college at Wake Forest, has died at the age of 87.


Arnold Palmer, who became the first international golf superstar after starring in college at Wake Forest, has died at the age of 87.  Palmer died Sunday in Pittsburgh, Pa. near his home in Latrobe, Pa.

 As a professional, Palmer won seven Major championships and claimed 62 titles on the PGA Tour.  He was the Tour Player of the Year in 1960 and 1962.    His first professional championship was the 1955 Canadian Open and his final PGA Tour title came in the 1973 Bob Hope Desert Classic.

 Palmer was born on September 10, 1929, in Latrobe, a small industrial town in Western Pennsylvania at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains some 50 miles east of Pittsburgh. His saga began when he was four years old, swinging his first set of golf clubs, cut down by his father, Milfred J. (Deacon) Palmer, who worked at Latrobe Country Club from 1921 until his death in 1976, much of that time as both golf professional and course superintendent. Before long, Arnie was playing well enough to beat the older caddies at the club. He began caddying himself when he was 11 and worked at almost every job at the club in later years.

 As a teen, Palmer played in national amateur tournaments alongside his good friend Buddy Worsham.  Worsham had committed to attend Wake Forest when Palmer asked if he could come as well.  Athletic Director Jim Weaver offered Palmer a scholarship.

 Palmer quickly became the No. 1 man on the Demon Deacon golf team and one of the leading collegiate players of that time. He captured both the 1949 and 1950 Southern Conference and NCAA individual titles and led his team to three Southern Conference championships.

 In 1950, Palmer and Worsham attended a function in Durham along with other Wake Forest students.  Palmer returned to the Wake Forest, N.C. campus separately from Worsham.  On the drive home, Worsham and Wake Forest football player Gene Scheer were killed when their car careened off a bridge.

 Palmer joined the Coast Guard shortly thereafter, interrupting his collegiate golf career.  After three years of service, he returned to Wake Forest and promptly won the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference Golf Championship in 1954.

 In the early 1960s, Palmer started the Buddy Worsham Scholarship at Wake Forest which provided financial aid to the Demon Deacon golf program. 

 Palmer continued to be a major financial benefactor to Wake Forest University throughout his life.  The campus has the Arnold Palmer Golf Complex and an Arnold Palmer dorm.  A statue honoring Palmer is located at the Arnold Palmer Golf Complex on campus.  Wake Forest’s male student-athlete of the year receives the Arnold Palmer Award.  An Arnold Palmer Scholarship has benefitted dozens of Demon Deacon golfers.

 Palmer achieved international acclaim when he won the 1961 and 1962 Open Championships.  At Royal Birkdale in 1961, Palmer posted a one-shot win to become the first American to earn the Claret Jug since  Ben Hogan in 1953.  He set Open Championship records during his 1962 victory at Old Troon with a third round 67 and a total score of 276.

 He was the PGA Tour leading money-winner in 1958, 1960, 1964 and 1967.  He won the Vardon Trophy in 1961, 1962, 1964 and 1967.  Palmer was a member of the Ryder Cup team in 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1971 and 1973 and captained the squad in 1963 and 1975.  Palmer had outstanding success on the Senior PGA Tour as well, winning the PGA Seniors Championship in 1980 and 1984 and the U.S. Senior Open in 1981.  He also won Senior Majors with victories in Senior Tournament Players Championship in 1984 and 1985.

 Arnold Palmer’s life has been full of achievement and honors.  He was one of the original inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame.  Palmer was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 1960.  He has been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.  He has received virtually every national award in golf and after his great 1960 season, he was named both the Hickok Professional Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.

 Statement from Wake Forest Athletic Director Ron Wellman

 Arnold Palmer’s impact on Wake Forest University cannot be measured.  Arnold held a lifelong love affair with this University and spoke frequently and lovingly of his alma mater.  While he was an outstanding competitor as a collegian, he made a world-wide impact throughout his life.  His global fame and charitable nature helped create international recognition for Wake Forest.  Arnold’s financial commitment to the University has allowed us to create outstanding facilities.  And his consistent interaction with the student body helped to generate many generations of Arnold Palmer fans.”

 Statement from Wake Forest men’s golf coach Jerry Haas:

 “Who lived a better life than Arnold Palmer? He played golf, a sport he loved and a sport that loved him. Lucky for us, he chose to be a Demon Deacon and he helped put Wake Forest on the map.:

 Statement from Wake Forest President Dr. Nathan Hatch:

“No alumnus ever has had a bigger impact on Wake Forest University as an ambassador, role model, benefactor and friend than Arnold Palmer,” said Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch. “Julie and I will always remember his kindness, his gracious hospitality, his love for golf and its culture of respect and fair play — as well as his love for Wake Forest. He was a true gentleman.”

“Wake Forest University has become synonymous with exceptional golf and that extraordinary reputation began with Arnold Palmer.”

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