Fox's 20th Century

Difficult though it is to claim that anyone apart from Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, was the outstanding world sportsman of the early and mid-Sixties, a personal view is that the sport he dominated with such athletic skill remains one without justification: the only one in which the most lauded margin of victory (the knockout) threatens brain damage and death.

Difficult though it is to claim that anyone apart from Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, was the outstanding world sportsman of the early and mid-Sixties, a personal view is that the sport he dominated with such athletic skill remains one without justification: the only one in which the most lauded margin of victory (the knockout) threatens brain damage and death.

Ali now stumbles towards old age. His personal greatness merely interrupted boxing's descent. So Palmer is the choice because, in spite of the demeaning scenes at the last Ryder Cup, he has a worthy lasting monument - the game of golf as we know it today, a sport once restricted to the rich, now played and watched by millions.

The most successful period of his career and the beginning of the spread of television proved a happy coincidence of timing. He won the US Open and Masters in 1960, the Open in 1961 and '62 (when he again won the Masters, as he did in 1964). It was a time when buying a television set came within the means of the majority. Suddenly Palmer, with his unpredictability, great physical strength and yet emotional character, was the pied piper who inspired not only his own followers, who became known as Arnie's Army, but players who took up the game in huge numbers. His special $10,000 match against Gary Player at St Andrews in 1961, which he won with a round of 70 on the Old Course, was a landmark in sports television history.

It was the inconsistent nature of his play that enthralled audiences. Examples are plentiful: in 1960 he won the US Masters by sinking birdies of 35 feet at the 17th and six feet at the last to win by one stroke. In the same year he won the US Open after being seven strokes behind going into the final round. He then birdied six of the first seven holes to get a 65 and the title. Yet in 1961 he needed only a par four at the last to win the Masters but had a six.

Undoubtedly he should have won more majors than he did and it was a mystery as to why after winning the 1964 Masters he continued to play superbly but without comparable success. After all, he was still only in his mid-thirties. Even so, 30 years later his army (and many new recruits who had been won over by his charisma) continued to follow him with almost fanatical enthusiasm.

He achieved 60 US Tour wins and appeared in six Ryder Cups over the period 1961 to 1973. The only major to elude him was the US PGA.

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