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7 facts about Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer takes a shot in 2002. Image: Arnold Palmer Foundation

To help mark the arrival of the Arnold Palmer Forever stamp, here are seven facts about the golf icon.

1. Palmer helped transform golf into a sport for the masses. The native of working-class Latrobe, PA, learned the sport from his father, who worked as course superintendent at the Latrobe Country Club. This allowed young Arnold to accompany his father as he maintained the course, picking up the game along the way. Palmer later honed his skills while serving in the military and eventually turned pro, winning 62 Professional Golfers’ Association of America Tour events, the fifth-most of all time, and 92 tournaments worldwide. Later, Palmer purchased the Latrobe Country Club.

2. He overcame his fear of flying by learning to fly. After lightning had struck a DC3 he was on, Palmer, at age 28, decided to take flying lessons. He bought a plane and flew himself to tournaments, racking up nearly 20,000 flying hours. In 1999, the Latrobe Airport, where he learned to fly, was renamed the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

3. Former President Dwight Eisenhower attended his birthday party. Eisenhower, an avid golfer, showed up as a surprise guest when Palmer turned 37 in 1966. He stayed overnight with Palmer and his wife. Palmer would later tell the story of the visit during a speech to Congress in 1990 as part of a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Eisenhower’s birth.

4. He guest hosted “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Palmer filled in for the talk show host on July 17, 1970. His guests were Vice President Spiro Agnew and tennis pro Rod Laver. The musical guest was pop and big band singer Vic Damone.

5. Palmer was a businessman and philanthropist, too. Among his many ventures: a restaurant that opened in 2004 in La Quinta, CA. It’s still around and continues to serves his favorite foods, including meatloaf, ribs, steaks and banana splits, which were invented in his beloved Latrobe.

6. He ate with the queen — and a former king. Palmer was a guest — twice — at White House state dinners for Queen Elizabeth II in 1991 and 2007. In 1970, Palmer was also a guest at a White House dinner for the Duke of Windsor, who was the queen’s uncle and had reigned as King Edward VIII before giving up the throne to marry American Wallis Simpson, who was also at the dinner.

7. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President George W. Bush presented Palmer with the nation’s highest civilian honor in 2004. While other athletes had received the award prior to Palmer, he was the first professional golfer to get the honor. Palmer also received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2012, about four years before his death at age 87.

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