Golf legend Arnold Palmer dies at 87

Arnold Palmer file photograph.

Associated Press - Arnold Palmer charged across the golf course and into America's living rooms with a go-for-broke style that made a country club sport popular for the everyman. At ease with presidents and the public, he was on a first-name basis with both.

Through his remarkable life, he never lost that personal touch. That's what made him the King.

Palmer died Sunday in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

"Arnold transcended the game of golf," Jack Nicklaus said. "He was more than a golfer or even great golfer. He was an icon. He was a legend. Arnold was someone who was a pioneer in his sport. He took the game from one level to a higher level, virtually by himself. Along the way, he had millions of adoring fans.

"He was the king of our sport and always will be."

Alastair Johnston, the CEO of Arnold Palmer Enterprises, said Palmer was admitted to the UPMC Hospital on Thursday for some cardiovascular work and weakened over the last few days.

The memories of Palmer went beyond his golf and to the people who couldn't take their eyes off him.

"He was an iconic American who treated people with respect and warmth, and built a unique legacy through his ability to engage with fans," Johnston said.

President Barack Obama tweeted about Palmer's death, saying: "Here's to The King who was as extraordinary on the links as he was generous to others. Thanks for the memories, Arnold."

Palmer ranked among the most important figures in golf history , and it went well beyond his seven major championships and 62 PGA Tour wins. His good looks, devilish grin and hard-charging style of play made the elite sport appealing to one and all. And it helped that he arrived about the same time as television moved into most households, a perfect fit that sent golf to unprecedented popularity.

"If it wasn't for Arnold, golf wouldn't be as popular as it is now," Tiger Woods said in 2004 when Palmer played in his last Masters. "He's the one who basically brought it to the forefront on TV. If it wasn't for him and his excitement, his flair, the way he played, golf probably would not have had that type of excitement.

"And that's why he's the king."

Beyond his golf, Palmer was a pioneer in sports marketing, paving the way for scores of other athletes to reap in millions from endorsements. Some four decades after his last PGA Tour win, he ranked among the highest-earners in golf.

"It is not an exaggeration to say there would be no modern-day PGA Tour without Arnold Palmer. There would be no PGA Tour Champions without Arnold Palmer. There would be no Golf Channel without Arnold Palmer," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said in a statement.

On the golf course, Palmer was an icon not for how often he won, but the way he did it.

He would hitch up his pants, drop a cigarette and attack the flags. With powerful hands wrapped around the golf club, Palmer would slash at the ball with all of his might, twist that muscular neck and squint to see where it went.

"When he hits the ball, the earth shakes," Gene Littler once said.

Palmer rallied from seven shots behind to win a U.S. Open. He blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine to lose a U.S. Open.

He was never dull.