When Arnold Palmer died on Sunday at the age of 87, he left behind a rich legacy. He was a successful golfer, a charismatic ambassador of the sport, and a pioneer in the field of sports marketing and endorsements, a man with an eponymous drink.
Fellow golfers called him the King. From 1958 to 1964, he was an incredibly dominant player, and the face of golf in the US. He won seven majors and had 62 total victories on the PGA tour. His good looks, charming personality, and success on the course grew the game’s popularity immensely in that time. He was locked in a three way rivalry with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in most of that era, but tended to have the crowds supporting him. The legions were called Arnie’s Army.
Palmer’s most enduring influence, however, may be in the sports marketing and endorsement business. He won his last major in 1964 and then went on to an endorsement career lasting more than 50 years.
When Palmer began playing golf in the 1950s, few athletes were endorsing products. Instead, most accepted free samples and allowed themselves to be seen using them. He was the first celebrity to have a marketing agent. That agent, Mark McCormack, parlayed his work with Palmer into IMG, the massive sports marketing company.
Palmer appeared in ads for Rolex, Sears, Cadillac, United Airlines, Bausch and Lomb, MasterCard, Allstate Insurance, Pennzoil, and Hertz, to name a few.
This one from Hertz is worth seeing again. Arnie refers to one of OJ Simpson’s ideas as “Sissy Stuff”.
And as recently as last month, he was featured in ads for the blood thinner Xarelto alongside Chris Bosh and Kevin Nealon. The spot has run 5,971 times, according to iSpot.tv.
His name is evoked on hot days when both an iced tea and a lemonade sound great, and it is hard to decide between the two. In the days since he died, I have been looking into the story behind that drink. There is so much urban myth that it is hard to find two websites that report on it the same way.
Some say it was invented at his home, when his wife made too strong a batch of iced tea, and Arnold suggested softening it with some lemonade. Others say it began after his 1960 US Open win at Cherry Hills near Denver. It was a tremendous come-from-behind victory, by one stroke over rival Jack Nicklaus, at the height of Palmer’s popularity. It is said he walked into a bar at lunchtime, asked for a little iced tea and a little lemonade, and caught the attention of a woman at the bar. She said wanted the same thing, an Arnold Palmer.
The recipe has had many interpretations as well. Arnold had a business interest in Arizona Beverages’ Half and Half drink, which is half lemonade and half iced tea. But Arnold told the story himself in this great ESPN video. If you are short on time, the highlights are at 2:25 and 3:36 in.
He believed the proper proportions for the drink are two parts iced tea to one part lemonade, and it ought to be poured in a particular order: first iced tea, next lemonade, and then some more iced tea. ESPN captured this method so well in this 2010 ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial.
The spot aired again, this week, just before half time in the Monday Night Football game the night after Palmer died. It was a tribute fit for a King.