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Arnold Palmer’s lasting impact on Canadian golf

J. Frowde Seagram's presents Arnold Palmer with the Seagram Gold Cup after his first PGA tour victory at the 1955 Canadian Open, at Westin Golf and Country Club.

Canadian Golf Hall of Fame Archives

The outpouring of warmth for Arnold Palmer extended north of the border the day after his death, even if the King of golf almost thwarted Canadian Sandra Post's bid to win the 1978 Dinah Shore championship.

Post was tied for the lead in the final round when she suddenly had to stop for 35 minutes because organizers had Palmer in a promotion, hitting 35 shots on the par-3 17th with a chance for someone to win a cash prize if he got a hole-in-one.

"It started when I was on the 16th!" Post said on Monday. "I had to wait, and then there were all those pitch marks on the green. And the player I was tied with (Penny Pulz) was in the clubhouse."

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She won the tournament and laughs about it now. She even adds that she and Palmer were on the same plane afterwards — he in first class and she one row behind in coach.

"This is a day of sadness but I'm so grateful he was in my era," Post said. "I was fortunate to play several rounds with him.

"He was always generous with the women's game, playing in mixed events."

Palmer, who died Sunday at age 87 in a Pittsburgh hospital, went from being a caddie to one of the greatest names in the sport but never seemed to forget where he came from. His humility and graciousness are remembered as much as his golf achievements.

Dave Barr of Kelowna, B.C., who won twice on the PGA Tour, played several times with Palmer and called him a role model.

"You tried to pattern your game after him and also how to treat people," said Barr. "You tried to learn from him.

"He probably wasn't the best player — you have to like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods for that — but he was the one who made the game popular. All of us, as pros, appreciate what he did for the game and how he allowed us to make a decent living from it. It's a sad day."

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Palmer certainly left his mark on Canada, and not only for the courses he helped design like the Whistler Golf Club or Northview in Surrey, B.C.

The Latrobe, Pa., native posted the first of his 62 PGA Tour victories in 1955 at the Weston Golf Club near Toronto. Palmer was a Tour rookie that year and travelled between tournaments by car with his first wife Winnie. The couple camped in a field behind the superintendent's shed.

Then he blew away the pack en route to a four-stroke win and the top prize of $2,400.

"Things came together pretty much for me in this Canadian Open and it got me started on the winning trail," Palmer said of the win.

He also won the Canadian PGA championship at the Mayfair club in Edmonton in 1980. It was his last title before joining the seniors tour, where he had 10 wins to boost his career pro victories total to 95.

Palmer won an event called the Canada Cup six times with either Sam Snead or Jack Nicklaus as his partner, although none of them were held in Canada. The two-man team event was renamed the World Cup in 1967.

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Bill Paul, former tournament director of the Canadian Open and now chief championship officer for Golf Canada, recalls meeting Arnold Palmer in 1981 and being just as impressed with the man as the golf legend.

"I remember it because he's the king of golf and I'm this little peon, but he treated me like I was anybody else," said Paul. "He treated everyone the same.

"And every time I'd meet him after that, he remembered me and knew my name."

In 2004, Paul invited him to help celebrate the Canadian Open's 100th anniversary and was stunned when the four-time Masters champion said "I'll go to the Canadian Open and I'd like to speak at it."

"When he said 'yes' it was unbelievable," said Paul.

A year later, Palmer was back at Weston to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first PGA win, which included playing in a skins game with Barr, Ray Floyd and Mark Calcavecchia. A statue of Palmer hugging the trophy was unveiled at the course.

Barr recalled Palmer's firm hands and how was constantly adjusting the leather grips on his clubs at the practice range.

He wasn't the only one to notice. Mike Weir of Bright's Grove, Ont., the 2003 Masters champion, issued a tweet with a picture of Palmer gripping a club that said: "I admire so many things about Mr Palmer...golf wise his grip was one of the best we've seen!"

Palmer was credited with sparking the sport's mass appeal at a time when the game had just started to be shown on television.

He also led the way for other athletes in capitalizing on his fame by launching a clothing line, a golf course design company, helping start the IMG sports agency and other ventures.

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