A Ragtag Devotee of “Arnie’s Army” Mourns the Death of the King of Golf

On Sept 25, we learned about the death of Arnold Palmer in Pittsburgh.

In April 1964, at the age of 13, long before I was commissioned as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, I enlisted in another army–the ragtag devotees of “Arnie’s Army.” Along with millions of others, I suffered as a follower when Arnie lost the PGA Championship by one stroke to Bobby Nichols in 1964, the only one of the “Big Four” major championships that Arnie never won. I suffered when Arnie blew a 7-shot lead in the back nine of the final round of the U.S. Open in 1966. I suffered when Arnie could no longer defeat his archrival–and lifelong, beloved friend, Jack Nicklaus.

Arnie winning his second of four Master's Golf championships in 1960

Arnie winning his second of four Master’s Golf championships in 1960

In the spring of 2005, I was finally able to “rub elbows” with the King of Golf–literally–on the apron of the 2nd green at Dominion Valley Country Club in Gainesville, Virginia. A parishioner who had recently bought a house there abutting the third hole had invited me to be his guest at a “practice round” exhibition (actually only three holes) by Arnie to open the course officially. Suddenly, the most renowned and beloved professional golfer who ever lived (and that includes Jack Nicklaus and certainly Tiger Woods) walked to where I was standing in the crowd to read the green for his 20-foot putt. The next moment there was Arnold Palmer standing on my right, sizing up his putt and brushing my right elbow with his left. I mused about asking him a fan question (“What was your favorite victory and what was your most wrenching moment on the tour?”) but thought better of it, since I was wearing a clergy shirt (I was headed next to a local hospital for a pastoral visit) and feared that I might make the King uneasy. So I remained silent. But I still stood next to one of my boyhood heroes as he did what brought joy to every member of “Arnie’s Army” and to countless millions of golfers and sports fans around the world–namely, hitch up his pants and charge the hole!

Lifelong close friend and rival Jack Nicklaus puts the famous "green jacket" on Arnie after the King wins the 1964 Master's golf championship.

Lifelong close friend and rival Jack Nicklaus puts the famous “green jacket” on Arnie after the King wins the 1964 Master’s golf championship.

The King is dead. But his legacy endures.

May his memory be eternal!

Archpriest Alexander


  1. Famous name. Sounded like a golfer. He was more “60’s” though when you had lots of famous teams, athletes. Joe Namath and Bart Starr, Gayle Sayers Dick Butkus, Koufax Seaver, Maravich and Walt Frazier. So he blew that 66′ US Open. My one golf experience watching pros was US Open at Olympic Club 4 or 5 years ago. There was this one guy, and you are up close watching, tee-ing off, he hit a big Eucalyptus tree smack in the middle and that golf ball smacked and bounced off that tree back on the course. Then I waited for Tiger Woods at the 17th putting green. He almost made one from a sand trap. Walked with him to the 18th. I bet he was great when he had his run, Arnold Palmer. Hitting the approach shot to the green, then high percentage putter. Little before my years though you remember the name.

  2. Two things:

    1) Jack Nicklaus is the “King of Golf,” by far.

    2) “Memory eternal” is an Orthodox salutation to be used for the Orthodox only.

    • Tim R. Mortiss says

      How about “everlasting memory” then? Or, perhaps, “lasting memory”…..

      I’d be interested in the chapter and verse on that assertion.

      • Estonian Slovak says

        I don’t know that there is chapter and verse on that assertion. I don’t see that expressing the wish that the memory of a non-Orthodox be eternal as any violation of the faith.

    • Michael Bauman says

      Memory Eternal is a great felt prayer for the soul of someone for whom we care. I am rather sure it is an appropriate prayer by an Orthodox for anyone.

      It would be interesting to know if the funeral for non-Orthodox contains that hope.

      • Tim R. Mortiss says

        Certainly non-Orthodox Christian funerals express the hope of eternal life (at least Catholics do and Protestant churches that retain any shreds of orthodox Christian belief– which is still most of them), but the expression “may [his][her] memory be eternal” or “everlasting be the memory” etc. I have only encountered in Orthodoxy.

        I remember being struck by it first decades ago as a wonderful and beautiful phrase of prayer. I have often used it in sympathy cards and other contexts with Christian friends who have lost loved ones.

        • Michael Bauman says

          And I Timor, I am often struck by the lack of simple kindness displayed by some folks who seem to think that the Orthodox Church is about every last jot and tittle of behavior. Gnats at best.

          “I will have mercy, not sacrifice.”

          There are some actual ramparts for us to take a stand on, but not praying for the departed in our own language outside a liturgical context is not even close.

          In fact our prayers for the dead are quite attractive to many.

          I was an official member of Arnie’s Army. He played golf in a unique way. Jack was better, but Arnie made it more fun and more human.

          It is a joy I will never forget.

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