"The King" and the U.S. Senior Open
Arnold Palmer may have died last September 25 at the age of 87, but his spirit – and the enormous impact he had on the creation and success of the PGA Senior Tour, including the establishment of the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) U.S. Senior Open – will live on forever.
Palmer’s positive influence on virtually every aspect of the game of golf is profound beyond measure. That goes even moreso, if that’s possible, for the over-50 professional game. Affectionately nicknamed “The King,” as he was known for a half century, Palmer provided his full support for the newly-created Senior Tour (known today as PGA Tour Champions) circuit and barnstormed the country in 1981, making promotional appearances at tournament venues those first few years to ensure the new Tour’s viability.
It is fitting to pay tribute to Palmer’s dedication and commitment to the Senior Tour, now known as the PGA Tour Champions, and his role in immediately popularizing the U.S. Senior Open in its infancy, as the countdown to the 38th U.S. Senior Open, set for Salem Country Club in Peabody, Mass., next June 26-July 2, continues.
No one has a better perspective on “The King’s” influence on the U.S. Senior Open and the PGA Tour Champions than Concord, Mass., resident Dick Connolly, Palmer’s financial adviser for nearly 38 years and one of Arnie’s best friends.
“The USGA changed the eligibility age to play in the U.S. Senior Open from 55 to 50, mainly because of Arnold,” says Connolly. “Arnold turned 50 in 1979, but wouldn’t be eligible for the Senior Open for another few years, until he turned 55. The USGA realized they didn’t want to exclude Arnold for another four years.
“So the eligibility age after the very first Senior Open was changed to 50, primarily to make Arnold eligible that very next year. How’s that for a tribute to one man, one player; a tribute to, in my estimation, the greatest sports figure – the greatest example of how a great sports figure should conduct himself – I’ve ever seen.
“And who do you think won the 1981 U.S. Senior Open? Arnold.”
Palmer was honored on two occasions by the Norton, Massachusetts-based Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund. The first time, 1997, he was presented the Francis Ouimet Award for Lifetime Contributions to Golf. In 2013 he received the Richard F. Connolly Distinguished Service Award. On each occasion the Ouimet banquet was a sellout, the latter event drawing more than 1500.
Connolly has been the Ouimet Fund’s leading benefactor over the past four decades.
“I wonder if the Senior Tour – or senior professional golf – would have succeeded without Arnold’s support and participation,” added Connolly. “That’s how important his presence was.”
This is a timely occasion, too, to look back on Palmer’s professional playing history in Massachusetts, particularly his “Senior” playing career.
Arnold played in Massachusetts for the first time as a professional in 1955 at the Carling Golf Classic at Charles River Country Club in Newton Centre, a Boston suburb.
He returned to the Bay State in 1963 and lost a U.S. Open playoff for the second year in succession, this time to Julius Boros. Two years later he experienced another close call. After a disappointing finish the week prior at the 1965 PGA Championship in his home region of Ligonier, Pa. (Laurel Valley CC), he placed second to Tony Lema at the Carling Open at Pleasant Valley CC in Sutton, Mass.
Fast-forward three years to 1968 and he finally broke through in the Bay State, winning the Kemper Open at Pleasant Valley with a 12-under 276 score, four better than runners-up Wall and Bruce Crampton.
Arnold Palmer, along with Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, drew record crowds to Salem Country Club during the 2001 U.S. Senior Open. Nearly two hundred thousand spectators and three thousand volunteers watched the greatest names in senior golf.
Salem Country Club and the 2017 United States Senior Open say thank you, Arnold.
Don’t miss your chance to witness history at the 2017 U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club as Gene Sauers makes his return to the Bay State. Tickets for this once in a generation event are one sale now and volunteer opportunities are available.
By: Gary Larrabee, Media Liaison, 2017 U.S. Senior Open