Laureation address – Arnold Palmer
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Professor Alan Cairns
School of Mathematics & Statistics
Tuesday 13 July 2010
Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Arnold Palmer for the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.
Occasionally there emerges a player who seems to dominate his or her sport and achieves a degree of public recognition extending far beyond the devotees of the game. In golf there can no doubt that Arnold Palmer is one of those iconic figures, a name familiar to most people as one of the twentieth century’s outstanding sportsmen.
Arnold Palmer was born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1929 and received an early introduction to golf from his father, the head professional at Latrobe Country Club. His golf career began in earnest in 1954 when he won the US Amateur Championship and decided to turn professional. He won the Canadian Open in his first season, and with the first of his four victories in the US Masters in 1958 established himself as one of the leading stars of the game. It was at this time that golf developed into a major spectator sport and attracted extensive television coverage, very much helped by Arnold Palmer’s charismatic personality and the excitement which he brought to the game. He was a player who hit the ball a long way and was willing to take risks. If a risky shot landed in trouble he had the skill and strength to recover his position. His approach might be summed up in the quotation “Trouble is bad to get into but fun to get out of. If you’re in trouble, eighty percent of the time there’s a way out. If you can see the ball, you can probably hit it; and if you can hit it, you can move it; and if you can move it, you might be able to knock it in the hole. At least it’s fun to try.” His exciting brand of golf, together with his affable manner endeared him to his fans, the famous “Arnie’s Army” which gathered around him at every competition.
As we stand on the brink of the Open Championship, which in the next few days will bring thousands of visitors to this small town and be watched by millions of television viewers across the globe, it is appropriate to bring to mind Arnold Palmer’s role in establishing this tournament as one of the leading events in golf and victory in it as an ambition of all leading players. By 1960 he had signed up with the agent Mark McCormack who was to play a large part in making professional golf into the big business it is today. At the time few American golfers bothered to enter the Open since, even if they won, the prize money barely covered their expenses. McCormack, however, encouraged Palmer to take part since success would boost his reputation outside the US. His first attempt in 1960 brought him second place and then he won in the next two years. With these victories he established both his international reputation and the status of the Open Championship.
Apart from his golfing career, Arnold Palmer is a successful businessman involved in a wide variety of activities, many of them related to design and management of golf courses. There are some 200 courses around the world designed by him. He is a noted benefactor to health care, supporting medical facilities both in his native Pennsylvania and in his adopted winter home of Florida.
Arnold Palmer has received numerous honours in the course of his career, most notably the recent award of a Congressional Gold Medal, making him the 141st recipient of this distinction in a line stretching back to George Washington. The award requires the passing of an Act by both houses of Congress and its unanimous approval by Senate took place on Arnold Palmer’s 80th birthday last September, following which he was invited to the White House in February of this year to witness the signing of the Act into law by President Obama. On another level he has the distinction of having a drink named after him, a mixture of iced tea and lemonade that is his favourite thirst quencher. This is now widely marketed in the US, one option apparently being to buy it in a golf ball shaped plastic container. It can only be a matter of time before it arrives on supermarket shelves here.
St Andrews has an international reputation for its University and for golf. In the run-up to the 150th Anniversary Open Championship it is very appropriate that the University should honour one of the great golfers of our times and one who has played a vital role in ensuring that over the next few days St Andrews will be the focus of attention of golfers around the world.
Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to the sport of golf, I invite you to confer on Arnold Palmer the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa.