The champion golfer who helped bring the sport to the masses
Arnold Palmer 1929–2016
Arnold Palmer was rightfully nicknamed The King. Handsome and charismatic, he won 62 PGA tournaments—putting him fifth on the all-time list—triumphed in seven majors, and became the first golfer to earn $1 million in career prize money. Palmer had a swaggering playing style that helped popularize golf in the TV era, bringing energy and zest to a sport that before him had been dominated by moneyed men wearing knickers and tweed caps. After smashing the ball off the tee, he’d march down the fairway, his sandy hair falling across his forehead, a cigarette sometimes dangling from his lips. When faced with a tricky lie, he would almost always eschew conservatism in favor of a high-risk, high-reward shot—an entertaining approach that won him a legion of adoring fans known as Arnie’s Army. “Trouble is bad to get into but fun to get out of,” he explained. “I suppose there’s a place to play it safe, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not on the golf course.”
“Palmer rose from a blue-collar background,” said The Washington Post. He grew up in Latrobe, Pa., where his father—a former steelworker—provided golf lessons and served as greenkeeper at the local country club. Under his father’s simple instructions, “Hit it hard, boy,” Palmer developed a highly unorthodox yet effective swing. He started caddying at age 11, won several major local tournaments in his teens, and attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina on a sports scholarship. He didn’t finish his studies: When his best friend died in a car accident, Palmer dropped out and served in the Coast Guard for three years. In 1954, seven months out of the Coast Guard and not having played competitively for years, he beat the odds to win the U.S. Amateur tournament. Days later, he became a professional golfer, and the following year he won his first PGA tournament, the Canadian Open.
“The next decade was one of heroic achievement,” said The Guardian (U.K.). Palmer won his first Masters in 1958. Two years later he repeated the feat, and went on to clinch the U.S. Open too. He won the British Open in 1961 and 1962, helping revive the “almost moribund” tournament, and earned two more Masters titles, in 1962 and 1964. His winning record was all the more impressive given that he was often competing against two other all-time greats: his compatriot Jack Nicklaus, and South Africa’s Gary Player. Yet success in one of the four majors, the PGA Championship, always eluded Palmer; he tied for second on three occasions. “I should have won it,” he said. “I wanted it too bad.”
With TV beaming golf “into Middle America’s living room,” Palmer became a “crossover star,” said the Los Angeles Times. He endorsed anything and everything—sporting equipment, cars, cigarettes, soft drinks, even tractors and dry cleaners—and was soon earning more than $500,000 a year from brands. Palmer guest-hosted for Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and became good friends with President Dwight Eisenhower. His favorite drink, a mix of ice tea and lemonade, became known around the world as an “Arnold Palmer.” One of his most successful ventures was his golf course design company, which “has designed more than 200 courses around the world,” said The Times (U.K.). Palmer bought two courses himself: the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, which stages a PGA Tour event, and the country club in Pennsylvania where his father had been the club pro.
Palmer won his last PGA tournament in 1973, said The New York Times. He later helped popularize the recently formed Senior PGA Tour, and continued playing in the Masters until 2004. He retired from all tournament golf two years later, at age 77. His only major disappointment was his nickname, which he hated. “There is no king of golf,” he said. “Never has been, never will be. Golf is the most democratic game on Earth. It punishes and exalts us all with splendid equal opportunity.”
The country star who sang of independent women
Jean Shepard 1933–2016
Jean Shepard blazed a trail for strong, confident women in country music. The honky-tonk singer broke into the maledominated genre in the 1950s and gleefully defied its conventions, which dictated that women in country songs must be loyal wives, innocent girls, or devilish barroom temptresses. Armed with a powerful, penetrating voice, Shepard slammed no-good men in hit songs like “The Root of All Evil (Is a Man),” suggested she was up for a little ex-marital fun in “Twice the Lovin’ (in Half the Time),” and attacked sexist double standards in “Two Whoops and a Holler.” Her longtime producer, Ken Nelson, fretted about her choice of songs. “He said, ‘It puts you in a bad light. We want to keep you as a sweet little country gal,’” Shepard recalled in 2011. “And I said, ‘Well, then, Ken—you don’t know me very well.’”
“She was born Ollie Imogene Shepard in Pauls Valley, Okla., one of 10 children,” said The New York Times. Her parents were poor sharecroppers, and her childhood home had no electricity or running water. After moving at age 11 with her family to Visalia, Calif., Shepard formed a high school band called the Melody Ranch Girls, “playing a bass fiddle that her parents had paid for by pawning furniture.” She caught the “eyes and ears of Capitol Records superstar Hank Thompson, who helped her sign with the label,” said Billboard.com. Her first single, 1952’s “Crying Steel Guitar Waltz,” flopped. But her next release, a duet with Ferlin Husky titled “A Dear John Letter,” was a million-selling chart-topper. Shepard began touring, and at 22 was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. Then in 1963 her husband, singer Hawkshaw Hawkins, died in the same plane crash that killed country superstar Patsy Cline. Shepard was left a widow, eight months pregnant and raising a toddler.
Several months after the crash, the still-grieving Shepard began recording again “and worked tirelessly to support her two boys,” said The Tennessean. She turned out some of the biggest hits of her career, including 1964’s “Second Fiddle (to an Old Guitar)” and 1966’s “If Teardrops Were Silver.” The hits dried up in the 1970s, but she kept touring and in 2011 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. “I hung in there,” she said at the ceremony, “like a hair on a grilled cheese.”