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The Daily Tar Heel

`King' of Golf Disappoints USGA

Arnold Palmer began golfing more than 65 years ago, when Franklin Roosevelt was president. But not once has he laid up -- in golf or life. It's become Arnie's code of honor, to go full throttle, full time.

For example, take his corkscrew swing and shoot-for-the-pin (and win) attitude that earned him 92 professional championships -- including seven in golf's four most prestigious tournaments -- and a par 5-sized niche in the game's lore. For a while, Palmer didn't just play golf. He was golf.

Or take the courtship of his bride Winnie, who, before dying of ovarian cancer last year, once said that she agreed to marry Palmer on a Saturday having met him only the Tuesday before. Know any other four-day courtships that lasted 44 years?

Or his 1997 battle with prostate cancer for which Palmer received surgery and recovered in only three months.

Unexpectedly soon, sure. But did anyone really think he'd skip the Masters?

Or more recently -- and most tragically -- his stances both for and against the game's rules, leaving a dark cloud hovering above his sunny legacy, too big even for a golf umbrella.

Palmer is perhaps the most popular figure in an individual sport.

His opinions, therefore, are demanded commodities. He knows it.

But Palmer never minded an audience. Infamous on tour for Arnie's Army, an entourage of flocking fans who by the early '60s turned him into golf's biggest name, Palmer became the first athlete to commercialize his popularity.

By the mid-1990s he was netting nearly $20 million annually from endorsements, despite having last won a tournament in 1988.

King Arnie has helped his image by refusing to tiptoe down the fairway of life. Instead of playing the safe shot, he still takes aim at the pin.

His most recent endorsement caused the biggest eruption yet from the gallery, but this one wasn't of a laudatory tone.

In October Palmer supported the new ERC II driver by Callaway Golf, an illegally proportioned club according to the standards of the United States Golf Association.

The nonconforming driver, intentionally designed to exceed the USGA's limits for the trampoline effect (how quickly the ball springs off the club face), has added as many as 30 yards to different players' tee shots.

"My feeling is, if it helped people have a little more fun, I thought it was fine," Palmer said in October interview, insisting he approves the club for recreational play only.

But that doesn't matter. If he'd approved it for range balls off rubber mats, the golf world would still be outraged.

How could King Arnie condone cheating in his own kingdom?

Although he won't be paid to support the club, should we ignore Palmer's 12-year endorsement deal with Callaway that started last June?

Palmer has served as the USGA's chief recruiter and honorary chairman of the Members Program, a position he has held since its 1975 inception.

"Arnold has done more than anybody in the history of the game to promote it," USGA President Trey Holland said to The Associated Press.

So Holland, a purist, was appalled to learn that Palmer betrayed the game by giving casual duffers the A-OK to play an illegal Callaway.

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Holland had no choice but to cut Palmer because, as he said, the USGA "can't have a guy as a visible spokesperson who is championing not playing by the rules of golf."

This December, for the first time since Gerald Ford putted in the Oval Office, letters were sent to prospective USGA members that didn't contain the John Hancock of one Arnold Palmer, who also had been -- ahem -- removed from the USGA's annual yearbook.

Holland did welcome back Palmer on Monday, albeit conditionally. USGA spokesman Marty Parkes told the AP that Palmer "is still on the team, but (he) is not our star player right now."

Palmer will have a less prominent role with the USGA, which has long taken pride in holding the line on its rules. The organization staunchly believes that anarchy will prevail if their lines are crossed.

As with the Casey Martin situation.

Not sure how essential walking is to golf? Palmer's not. He testified for the Professional Golfers Association Tour, claiming that walking the course is integral to playing the game -- even though he personally rides carts while competing on the Senior Tour.

As if Palmer's public relations image hadn't taken enough of a hit with Drivergate, he then stuck his neck out at the expense of a disabled golfer's dream. He wasn't malicious to Martin, but it makes you wonder what rule book Arnie is playing by.

Palmer should ask to carry a shovel in his golf bag as his 15th club, he's dug himself that big a hole. No one made Palmer take a stance on PGA Tour v. Martin. No one made him support the illegal driver. And no one -- not even King Arnie -- can spin doctor out of this bunker.

Palmer, 71, now considers a good day whenever he musters together a round in which he shoots near his age. Meanwhile, worldwide legions of Arnie's Army cringe each day their seemingly fearless leader continues to shoot his legacy in the foot.

Makes you wonder if Palmer wishes he could save face and rake over his mistakes.

But should we be fooled to think the King would take a mulligan?

Dan Satter, a junior history and journalism and mass communication major from Framingham, Mass., is a 30 handicap. Send comments and swing advice to satter@email.unc.edu.

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