By Martin Tighe
On Sunday night at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Rory McIlroy rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to secure his first Fedex Tour Champonship. In doing so, he topped the Fedex Cup standings, pocketed the $10million first prize – the biggest purse in golf – and boosted the hopes of Europe’s Ryder Cup team ahead of this weekend’s showdown at Hazeltine.
The importance of this result under normal circumstances would carry huge weight in the sporting world. However, the timing of McIlroy’s success coincided with possibly the greatest loss to modern golf. For as McIlroy stood over his winning putt on the 16th green, the ‘King” Arnold Palmer, took his last breaths in a Florida hospital.
The significance of the timing cannot be lost as if it was not for Palmer, no modern professional golfer would have the exposure, money or lifestyle that they are now accustomed to.
Palmer’s death at 87 years of age will be mourned by many. But his life and achievements should be celebrated. None more so than his Open championship win at Royal Troon in 1962.
His appearance in Ayrshire that year marked a turnaround in the fortunes in the Open Championship. Palmer along with many other stars from the United States attended, giving the competition its strongest field in decades. This event alone was the rebirth of golf on an international scale.
The “King’s” appearance in 1962 was not solely motivated by his desire to transform the image of golf. He was there to defend his Open crown having won the previous year at Royal Birkdale. Palmer was on course to complete golf’s “Grand Slam” of Majors. A term he himself coined on a transAtlantic flight.
A portrait of Palmer, commissioned by Royal Troon golf club in 2012 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that win, now hangs in the Ailsa room of the clubhouse. Of that Major success, Palmer reflected: “Royal Troon is one of the great golf courses in Scotland and certainly one that will stand well for the Open Championship. I will always have particular fond memories of my Open Championship there in 1962 because it was one of the most solid and complete performances of my career.”
As the sporting world waits for the drama to unfold at Hazeltine this weekend, it can’t be disputed that this is another event which wouldn’t be the same if the man known as the King hadn’t graced it with his presence over the years.