Date: September 27, 2016
Author: Mike Clayton

Clayton: Palmer simply irreplaceable

There is nothing new anyone can say about Arnold Palmer and the impact he had on American golf. He brought both the crowds and the money into a game where few previously made much playing it professionally.

Before Palmer, even the best players supplemented their incomes by working at clubs in the off-season, but he burst on to  television screens across the United States in the late 1950s and brought with him the era of the full-time player.

Television brought sponsors, his great rivals emerged in Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and the game boomed around the western world.

The three global stars took their games to the world, reviving the Open Championship in Britain and bringing it to life in Australia.

We had our own stars including Kel Nagle, Peter Thomson, Norman Von Nida and Ossie Pickworth, but understandably yearned to watch the famous Americans we could only read about in newspapers.

Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Cary Middelcoff, Jimmy Demaret and Lloyd Mangrum all came on occasion to play tournaments and exhibitions, but following them in the 1960s it was ‘The Big Three’ who came year after year and gave real credibility to our circuit and the Australian Open in particular.

Nicklaus won six times and Player seven while Palmer’s only win was at Royal Queensland in 1966. It gave our Open great status to have such famous players playing and arguably they did more for the Open by winning it than winning it did for them. It will forever be a trophy worth winning because their names are engraved on it so many times.

Mark McCormack famously agreed with a handshake the management arrangement to further Palmer’s commercial arrangements and one of those deals was with Slazenger in Australia. Slazenger each year made Palmer, Nicklaus and Player model clubs and in return for the generous royalties, they played in the big events down here.

Unbelievably in the modern age, they would also play exhibition matches in the most unlikely places. Player once played a match at Yarram, a small country Victorian course. Nicklaus did the same in Shepparton and Palmer played at Northern, a suburban Melbourne club in 1963.

There is about as much chance of having Rory McIlroy or Jason Day or Jordan Spieth play an exhibition for less than half a million dollars a day at far off and not so glamorous clubs as them flying to the moon.

The lives of today’s best players aren’t any busier or more demanding and flying certainly isn’t more onerous. Today’s stars talk with reverence about the things Palmer did for the game and how much they owe him, but there’s not a chance they could approach what Palmer, Nicklaus and Player did to spread the word of the game to places far from their homes at times of the year they would probably have preferred to be at home.

So few players demand you watch them play golf, but Arnold Palmer was one and the late Severiano Ballesteros was another. The promise of both was they would do something leaving a memory for a lifetime. It’s a rare gift combined with a rare talent and both were great and irreplaceable men.