The Legend Continues...
After Prostate Cancer
For almost fifty years, the name Arnold Palmer has been synonymous with golf. Since he first began competing on the links as a teenager in Pennsylvania, people have loved to watch him work his magic with the clubs, and his popularity has grown right along with his success.
Today, there are many words that can be used to describe Arnold Palmer — golf legend, business executive, devoted husband, father and grandfather — and prostate cancer survivor. Not too long ago, the athlete was diagnosed with prostate cancer and, as he has done with everything else in his life, Arnie tackled this challenge with concentration and perseverance. He now stands as a positive role model for men across the country who are battling this disease.
The Birth of a Legend
Arnie may not have been born with a golf club in his hand when he entered the world on September 10, 1929 in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, but he was swinging his first clubs by age four. His father, Milfred "Deacon" Palmer, who worked at Latrobe Country Club as both golf professional and course superintendent, gave his young son lots of encouragement and pointers so it came as no surprise that young Arnie was beating some of the older caddies by the time he reached his teen years.
In high school, Arnie really began to concentrate on his game and his hard work paid off when he won his first of five West Penn Amateur Championships at age 17. He went on to win national junior events and, as a student at Wake Forest University (then College), Arnie became the top man on the golf course and one of the leading collegiate players of that time. With graduation in sight, however, an auto accident claimed the life of his close friend, Bud Worsham, the younger brother of 1947 U.S. Open Champion Lew Worsham. Deeply affected by the loss of his friend, Arnie left college and signed up for a three-year hitch with the Coast Guard.
After discharge from the service, Arnie ended up in Cleveland where he worked as a salesman and played amateur golf. He won the U.S. Amateur Tournament in 1954, followed by a second victory in the Ohio Amateur competition. Later that year, he met Winifred Walzer, who caught his eye at a tournament in Eastern Pennsylvania. After a whirlwind courtship, they were married in the fall of 1954 and she traveled with him as he turned professional early the following year.
Arnie kicked off his professional career by winning the 1955 Canadian Open. Seven of his victories came in what the golfing world considers the four major professional championships. He won the Masters Tournament four times, (1958, 60, 62 and 64); the U.S. Open in 1960; and the British Open in 1961 and 62. Among these major tournaments, only the PGA Championship has eluded him; but he has finished second three times.
In addition to his remarkable performance on the country's premier golf courses, Arnie's charisma and magnetic personality drew fans like bees to honey. Television sports commentators dubbed his growing flock of fans "Arnie's Army;" a band of spectators made up of loyal proponents of the sport and the man.
He entered the hottest stretch of his career in 1960, when — before the end of 1963 — he landed 19 titles and accumulated almost $400,000 when the tournament purses were small compared to today’s significant prizes. In three of those years, Arnie was the leading money winner and twice he represented the U.S. in the prestigious Ryder Cup Match, serving as the victorious captain in 1963.
He was named "Athlete of the Decade" (1960s) by the Associated Press in recognition of his enormous impact on the game of golf, due in no small part to his popularity and appeal. Since then, he has received virtually every national award in golf, including both the "Hickok Professional Athlete of the Year" and Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" trophies. Arnie has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame as a Charter Member; the American Golf Hall of Fame; and the PGA Hall of Fame. Since his first pro victory in 1954 to the end of 1997, Arnold Palmer amassed 92 championships in national or international tourneys.
The name Arnold Palmer would be one of the most recognizable in the world even if he had done nothing more than play golf. But he has also earned well deserved recognition as a successful entrepreneur. Not surprisingly — under the umbrella of Arnold Palmer Enterprises — many of his commercial ventures have to do with golf: design and management of golf courses; manufacturing sporting goods and golf equipment; cable TV's "The Golf Channel" based in Orlando; and the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy.
Palmer As Spokesman
Over the past decade or so — off the course — the gentle, friendly face of Arnold Palmer has appeared in both print and electronic media for such diverse causes as spokesperson for a premium motor oil, and as the national honorary chairman of the March of Dimes Foundation. This is a man for whom integrity is one of life’s cornerstones, and who pleads convincingly for support in his fund-raising roles. He recognizes that people do listen to what he has to say and he takes this fact very seriously, especially when sharing information about his experience with prostate cancer.
In this exclusive interview with PROACT, Arnie shares some of his personal thoughts on the subject.
"Enjoying good health is especially important on the golf course, so I have been in constant touch with my doctors over the years," Palmer explained. "They had given me the results of my annual PSA tests so I was aware that my prostate was acting up a little bit. I guess I was aware of what might happen, but I had no idea that anything was wrong. I didn't have any feelings and, as far as my personal health habits were concerned, nothing had really changed."
“I guess most of us would rather not discuss cancer because we are all afraid we might be told we have it,” Palmer continued. “It’s hard for people to even say the word, and that’s the first obstacle you have to overcome when you are diagnosed with the disease. I think once you understand a little more about it... I don’t mean it gets any easier...but I think you give it more in-depth thought about how you’re going to deal with it.”
Palmer says he has a lot of confidence in his doctors, at the time of his diagnosis and now.
“I believed strongly in what they were telling me. I decided I was going to the Mayo Clinic — where the diagnosis was confirmed — and then I proceeded to get on with what was necessary. They told me the bottom line on what I had, where it was, and how to treat it...and I accepted that. While I certainly had all the options to do whatever I wished, as far as the treatment was concerned, I chose the aggressive option. I chose surgery,” Palmer said, “and I’m happy with that decision. I was fortunate to experience no side effects, other than the recovery period which was, to me, rather lengthy. I looked at it like this: if you’re recovering from cancer then you’re in a pretty good mode, and should accept it. Yes, indeed,” he said emphatically, “I’d make the same decision again.”
About eight weeks after surgery, Arnie was back on the golf course.
Arnie is concerned that men need to make the commitment to maintaining good prostate health, and he offers some sound advice on the subject:
“Just get your regular check-ups and PSAs and, if you’re diagnosed, do everything you can to eradicate the disease. I think we are fortunate to have the best doctors in the world in this country. If you’re not satisfied with the diagnosis and prognosis, then get another couple of opinions. But, in the final analysis, you need to do what it takes to get rid of the cancer and get on with your life.”
Palmer says that a lot of men have come to him and said that they are getting their PSAs because they have heard him recommend it.
“I know that there are also a lot of men who are NOT getting a regular PSA. I don’t know how you can convince them that this simple test might just save their life. I guess we just have to keep saying it over and over, stressing that this is something that is really very necessary. This is also an area where I think it the federal government has a major role to play. The government is, after all, the people. They have a responsibility — in addition to funding research — to help translate this message to the general public.”
Palmer is very stoic about being a cancer survivor. “I think there is always the potential that, once you have been diagnosed with cancer — depending on your age and attitude on life — that this can affect your personality. I would hope,” he said firmly, “that we can overcome whatever ill effects that might have on us, and get on with enjoying life.”