By Dave Shedloski/Golf Digest
Arnold Palmer, by acclamation the most important golfer in the game’s history, died Sunday at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center of complications from heart problems at the age of 87. He had been admitted to the hospital on Thursday and was scheduled to undergo a surgical procedure for his heart on Monday morning.
The winner of seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour titles, Palmer passed away at approximately 5 p.m. EDT, according to Alastair Johnston, chairman of Arnold Palmer Enterprises. His daughters, Peggy and Amy, were by his side.
Details for a memorial service are pending, said Johnston, who stressed that “all manner of sensitivity” would be given to its scheduling due to the 41st Ryder Cup matches being held this week in the Minneapolis area.
As per stipulations in his will, Palmer is to join his parents and his first wife Winnie in having his ashes spread at a specific location at Latrobe Country Club in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where Arnold grew up and learned the game from his father Deacon. That ceremony will be private and its date undisclosed. Palmer is survived by his second wife, Kit; his daughters, Amy (Roy) Saunders and Peggy (Stewart) Bryan; six grandchildren; numerous great-grandchildren; his brother, Jerry, and sisters, Sandra Sarni and Lois “Cheech” Tilly.
Just 25 months ago Palmer underwent surgery to have a pacemaker implanted. That procedure marked the first of a series of health issues for arguably the game’s most popular figure.
In December 2014, he dislocated and fractured his shoulder when he tripped over his late Labrador retriever, Mulligan, in his condominium at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, where he annually hosted the US PGA Tour event that bears his name, the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Complications from tooth and foot ailments this past winter further slowed him and contributed to his decision to forgo hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot in this year’s Masters. He did make an appearance on the first tee as contemporaries Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit shots, but he appeared unsteady and needed help from his longtime friends leaving the tee box.
Last month Palmer underwent an operation to stop internal bleeding in his colon.
“I was not shocked, because his health wasn’t good, but I must say I did not expect it,” said his close friend and business associate, Charlie Mechem, who in the winter months lived next door to Palmer at The Tradition Country Club in La Quinta, California. “We spoke on the phone almost every day last week, and most days he was in good spirits. Arnold was the greatest page-turner I’ve ever known, and I mean that in the most positive way. It was part of his greatness as a golfer, and it was part of his greatness as a person. For him, tomorrow was always going to be a better day.”
Jack Nicklaus, who succeeded Palmer as the game’s greatest player in the 1960s, responded to the news with deep emotion.
“My friend – many people’s friend – just wore out,” Nicklaus said. “I know he was in Pittsburgh trying to find out how to make himself better. That’s what Arnold has always tried to do. He has always been a fighter, and he never gave up on anything. He didn’t give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold’s will and spirit did not. I wish I had another chance to talk to him, but I am so glad we talked a couple weeks ago on his birthday [September 10], when he sounded great. So Barbara and I are just in shock and incredibly saddened. He was one of my best friends, closest friends, and he was for a long, long time. I will miss him greatly.”
Palmer collaborated with this writer last year to write a final memoir of his life and career. St. Martin’s Press is releasing the book, titled A Life Well Played, My Stories within the next few weeks.