He might have been a Coastie, but Arnold Palmer had his own army. The golfing legend who inspired a devoted group of fans known as “Arnie’s Army,” Palmer was already a golf phenom when he enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1950, after dropping out of Wake Forest. As he later recounted, “I was at Wake Forest for three and a half years and my roommate got killed in an automobile accident and I was pretty distraught over that and decided that I needed to get away.” Palmer credits his service with helping him give his life some direction. “The knowledge that I gained, the maturity that I gained in the Coast Guard was unbelievable. It matured me,” he said. “It made me a better person… The military isn’t just restrictions and military duties. It’s learning and it’s very important that young people have that opportunity to learn and to know themselves a little better, and I think the military helps put that in the right perspective.”
Palmer’s first assignment was at Cape May as a physical fitness and self-defense instructor. About a year later he was transferred to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a yeoman for the commander of the 9th Coast Guard District Auxiliary (now the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve) and ultimately for Rear Adm. Roy L. Raney, 9th Coast Guard District commander. “I became a photographer and I did the identifications for all the Coast Guardsmen in the 9th Coast Guard District,” he said. “I traveled to all the stations and did photos and then took those all back to headquarters and did the identifications cards for all the Coast Guard personnel in the 9th district.” Of course, Palmer also worked on his golf game during this time, competing in weekend golf tournaments with the blessing of Admiral Raney, who received regular golf lessons from Palmer while they served together.
Raney recommended the young Palmer continue on to become an officer, but in 1953 Palmer decided the time was right to rejoin the golfing world full-time. He returned to Wake Forest and promptly won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1954. He would go on to win 7 major tournaments (62 overall), and became the first golfer to win a million dollars in prize money on the tour. Palmer would go on to revolutionize sports marketing, as his alliance with lawyer Mark McCormack, whom he met in the Coast Guard, led to the creation of the International Management Group, which became the most prominent sports agency in the world. Palmer has become associated with Penzoil and other popular products through his canny use of marketing, and even has a drink named after him — in remembrance of his achievements, be sure to drink a half iced-tea, half-lemonade.
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