Orlando, United States: Arnold Palmer’s huge contribution to The Open is being celebrated this week with the iconic Claret Jug trophy going on display at the first playing of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard since he passed away last September.
Palmer was Champion Golfer of the Year on two occasions, winning The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and successfully defending the title when the championship was staged at Royal Troon the following year.
At Royal Birkdale, his famous six-iron shot from the base of a bush onto the green on what is now the 16th hole is commemorated by a plaque.
In recognition of the key role Palmer played in supporting The Open, The R&A has commissioned two commemorative Champions’ medals of his victories in 1961 and 1962 and a special players’ badge which it will present to the Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation later this year.
At the Centenary Open at St Andrews in 1960, Palmer was pursuing the grand slam, after winning the first two Major championships of the year, but lost out by a single stroke to Australia’s Kel Nagle.
A hugely popular figure with the fans, Palmer’s determination to come to Britain to win The Open inspired other leading American players to follow in his footsteps. He bade an emotional farewell to his many fans at The Open from the Swilcan Bridge in St Andrews in 1995 but returned to take part in the Champion Golfers’ Challenge in 2015.
The 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson, who is playing in this week’s event, said: “It’s a great honour to have my name on the Claret Jug alongside all the great champions from the past including Arnie, it’s a dream come true really.
“We are going to try our very best to pay the rightful tributes to his life and legacy here this week. He has meant so much to the game and there are a lot of nice initiatives being made in his memory. I’m happy to be a part of that.”
The commemorative medals and players’ badge will be included in an exhibition of Palmer memorabilia that will tour around the United States this year. Further tributes will take place at The 146th Open at Royal Birkdale when the Championship returns to the Southport links for a 10th time from July 20-23.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “We have given a great deal of thought to how we can show our appreciation for Arnold’s immense contribution to The Open over many years and were pleased to provide the Claret Jug to form part of the exhibition celebrating his career at Bay Hill this week.
“His back-to-back victories in The Open in 1961 and 1962 featured some of the most exciting and thrilling golf in the championship’s history. As The Open returns to Royal Birkdale this July, Arnold’s victory there will be at the forefront of our minds and we are planning further tributes at the championship.”