Arnold Palmer: ‘Gambling was not held against him’

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Harvey Fierstein has made a movie out of Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer was one of the most famous golfers in the world when he died on Sunday aged 87.

But many people today are astonished that the American had not won a major golf tournament until he turned 50.

In addition to his famous wife of 54 years, Karianne, and six children, Palmer was also a self-confessed gambling addict who regularly enjoyed the company of prostitutes at Las Vegas casinos.

That didn’t stop the US Masters champion from holding the prestigious US Open for so long (50 years) and the Open at Turnberry for more than 40 years (58 years).

But whatever questions were asked of Palmer’s competency on the golf course, they were never directed to the fact that he was a professional gambler.

A case in point, late in his career, was his ill-fated 1997 bid to win the Open at Medinah, which Palmer held a small lead at on the final day.

That meant that Palmer needed to secure the title at TPC Paris. Knowing the opposition, he relied on a trusted caddie – a cousin, Mark Woodland – who agreed to take a 16.5% stake of the winnings.

However, this plan backfired badly as Woodland lost £190,000 (comparatively speaking a pittance to a professional gambler – more than £1m for one hour of play).

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Palmer was used as a UNICEF ambassador in 2011

It seems Palmer was too “affectionate” to be a blackmailer, however. Rather than burn Woodland’s duffel bag, the caddie escaped with just a $1,000 fine for his co-operation.

Perhaps it was Palmer’s inability to avoid trouble with law enforcement – and perception that he was gambling while on the course – that persuaded the Golf Writers’ Association of America to ask him to become the president of the association in 1999.

Palmer’s acting career also paved the way for his unlikely television transition from golfers’ off-course antics to those associated with police dramas such as Without a Trace.

As Oscar winner Meryl Streep suggested in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada about a cosmetics company vice-president, Palmer will “always be a spectator to a tragedy”.

This was certainly the case in his battle with Alzheimer’s. Although Palmer appeared to be his usual lively self at the 2006 Masters, the cancer of the brain was rendering him almost totally forgetful of his past life as a golfer.

Related article Golf world reacts to Arnold Palmer’s death

Some suggested he should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame immediately. But Palmer said he wanted to pass that responsibility onto the new president, Earl Haas, the vice-president of NBC Sports who died earlier this year.

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