I am new to country clubs, but not to golf. In my early years, I often enjoyed the tranquility and fellowship of a golf match with friends. In the same way, even during the recent FedEx final and the Ryder cup telecasts, watching golf has been a peaceful way to finish a Sunday afternoon.
Arnold Palmer came to prominence several years before I discovered golf as a young teenager. I became a fan of Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Trevino and Crenshaw. In the few times that I watched a tournament with Palmer near the top, I was left with a lasting impression of his competitiveness and his charisma.
Few people’s impact and greatness transcends their profession or immediate area of influence. Not many people in sports achieve a level of notoriety that establishes a place for them that exceeds their sport. Mother Teresa did this. Ronald Reagan did so. And, on a local St. Louis level, Stan Musial achieved this. But Arnold Palmer was also in this category.
As a member of the Missouri Athletic Club, I had the privilege to meet and interact with Stan Musial in the later years of his life. Like all truly great men, he was humble in spite of his accomplishments. He took the time to honor those around him.
I have told the story in past Insight articles as well as in many speeches about the day about fifteen years ago when I went to lunch with a client at the West County MAC. As we approached the hallway that led to the host stand, there was a backup of about thirty people waiting to be seated. After a few minutes of waiting, word was being passed back from the front of the line to those of us at the end that Stan Musial was up front. Based on this information, we all relaxed and waited more patiently.
Those of us who were frequent visitors to the club knew that, at this stage of his life, Musial used a walker and was therefore very slow navigating his way up the hallway to his reserved place in the Stan Musial Grill. To be considerate of others, Stan seldom arrived during the lunchtime rush.
However, this day he had arrived later than normal. As we approached the front of the line and the entrance to the seating, I could see that Stan was standing next to the host stand greeting each person as they came in. When we reached him, he reached out his hand and as I shook it, he apologized for delaying us. “We got caught in traffic and didn’t beat the rush. I apologize for keeping you waiting.”
I graciously shook his hand, smiled, and thought of how extraordinary it was that the great Stan Musial was a man of such humility.
From what I have learned about Arnold Palmer, he also had a humble manner about him inspite of his amazing accomplishments.
In addition, in the many tributes to Palmer that played last week, many of his golf competitors noted that he was a great friend. His greatest competitor and rival, Jack Nicklaus, became one of his best friends. Early in Nicklaus’ career, Nicklaus credits Palmer with helping him rely on his talent and developing the confidence to become a great golfer.
Besides these humility and friendship aspects, as I look at his life, there are other things that strike me as foundational to who Palmer became. These qualities allowed him to have the tremendous impact that he had.
Before anything else, Palmer had talent. As a child, it became clear that he had been gifted with an incredible ability to play the game of golf. His sister recalls that he would talk about how he would win tournaments when he got older. He never lacked confidence in his golf game as a youngster.
His later life would also demonstrate that he had a talent for business as well as for marketing and promotion. These talents would allow him to impact the world for much longer than his golfing talent.
He was also a hard worker. Talent without hard work is a waste. Palmer did not waste his talent in any area. As a young golfer, he practiced for long hours. Later, in business, he surrounded himself with smart advisors and partners and he pursued his business interests aggressively. He owned a number of planes through the years which allowed him to have more time for his golfing, family, business and charitable activities.
In addition to his talent and his willingness to work hard, Palmer had charisma. This is a rare gift that few have. It allowed him to light up a room or a TV screen. It enabled him to interact with Hollywood stars, presidents, and the many, many average people who made up “Arnie’s Army.” His charisma, coupled with his golf talent and his golfing success, triggered the popularity of golf as a televised sport. His electrifying success at the Masters and other major golf events propelled the sport into being popular and financially rewarding to golf professionals.
The last gift that Palmer had that I want to comment on is his heart. By this I mean the way he cared about friends and even people he didn’t know. His heart was the key to his ability to impact the world outside of his golf and business interests. His caring for others and his desire to give back is what drove him to commit so much of his time to charitable endeavors. It led him to raise money for hospitals and clinics, to fight diseases and to help those who were less fortunate in many ways. It also inspired him to make sure that the golfing industry made decisions that would enhance the sport. And it was his heart that was at the core of his ability to have friends in all walks of life.
Talent, hard work, humility, charisma, friendship, and a caring heart. If we can master just three or four of these, we, in the smaller world that is ours, can impact those around us in a profound way.
I encourage you to use the passing of Arnold Palmer as a reason to reflect on your life and where you are headed. Take a look at these traits and commit to becoming a better you and becoming better at what you do by working on one or two of them.