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“We are deeply saddened by the death of Arnold Palmer, golf’s greatest ambassador, at age 87,” the USGA said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Arnold Palmer will always be a champion, in every sense of the word,” the USGA said. “He inspired generations to love golf by sharing his competitive spirit, displaying sportsmanship, caring for golfers and golf fans, and serving as a lifelong ambassador for the sport.
“The game is indeed better because of him, and in so many ways, will never be the same.”
No cause of death was immediately given.
Palmer, a native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, died at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, where he had been since Thursday while undergoing heart tests, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Palmer captured seven major tournaments during his illustrious career, taking The Masters four times (in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964), the British Open twice (in 1961 and 1962) and the US Open once (in 1960).
His go-for-broke style enthralled fans, and he became one of golf’s first television superstars, helping propel the game into the mainstream when his rise — along with that of Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player — set the stage for the sport’s huge broadcast rights fees and prize money riches, which were later enhanced by the success of Tiger Woods.
Woods was among those paying tribute to Palmer on Sunday.
“Thanks Arnold for your friendship, counsel and a lot of laughs,” Woods said on Twitter after news of Palmer’s death. “Your philanthropy and humility are part of your legend.
“It’s hard to imagine golf without you or anyone more important to the game than the King.”
Palmer looked frail when he joined fellow icons Player and Nicklaus for the ceremonial first tee shot at the Masters in April, when ill-health prevented him from swinging a club.
‘Made golf sexy’
Although Palmer’s presence around the game had become less regular in recent years, today’s young stars were aware of the iconic player’s impact on their sport.
“Let’s be honest, it’s kind of a nerdy sport,” Australia’s Jason Day said this year. “Arnold Palmer made golf sexy.”
Palmer attended Wake Forest University on a golf scholarship. At age 24, he won the 1954 US Amateur at the Country Club of Detroit.
Later that year, Palmer turned pro. In a career that spanned more than six decades, he won 62 PGA Tour titles, putting him at fifth on the Tour’s all-time victory rankings.
He led the PGA Tour money list four times, and was the first player to win more than $100,000 in a season.
He played on six Ryder Cup teams and was the winning captain twice.
In 1974, Palmer was one of the original inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2012 he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, giving him both of the highest honors the United States can give to a civilian.