Written by: Doc Giffin, Assistant to the President- Arnold Palmer Enterprises
Arnold Palmer’s remarkable and wondrous golf career had its roots in Western Pennsylvania while he was growing up at Latrobe Country Club and competing on the golf team at Latrobe High School. Young Arnie learned early on how to handle stardom as he led the Wildcats to sectional championships and at the same time consecutive WPIAL and PIAA individual championships. He had his first golf club in his hands when he was only three years old. His father, Milfred (Deacon) Palmer, the golf professional and grounds superintendent at Latrobe Country Club, cut down a set of clubs to fit him and showed him how to hold them. He told him: “That’s the right grip. Don’t change it. Hit the ball hard. Go find it and hit it hard again. Don’t let anybody fool with or change your swing.” Obviously, father gave son the right advice. Arnie was breaking 100 when he was just eight years old and got his first tastes of competitive golf when he was 12, playing in junior events around the Greater Pittsburgh area. That and his constant practice at the country club prepared him for his days wearing the orange and black of Latrobe High School. What may have been critical to everything that followed was what happened his freshman year. Besides his golf, like most boys those days, Arnie played football and baseball. Although he wasn’t very big, he was good enough to letter as a halfback and defensive tackle on the junior high football team. Naturally, he went out for football when he began senior high, but the coach, Bill Yates, wouldn’t give him a uniform. Too small, he told him. This was a bitter disappointment for Arnie, but may have been the best thing that could have happened to him—and for Bill Yates, who also was the golf coach. Deacon Palmer was not very sympathetic when Arnie told him about it. In fact, he said: “You shouldn’t be playing football away. If you really want to play golf, stick to that.” In what proved to be a real understatement, in its preview of the 1944 season, The High Post, the student newspaper, labeled Arnie first among golf team newcomers who “show promise.” He immediately became the No. 1 man and in his first high school match shot 71, defeating Bill Danko, Jeannette high’s top player. Over the next four seasons, he led Latrobe to four consecutive sectional championships and deep into the WPIAL playoffs, in one match during his senior year shooting a brilliant 31. Individually, Arnie pulled off a rare feat his last two years of high school. He won the WPIAL and PIAA (State) championship back to back. The 1946 victories earned him his first trip to a national junior tournament and he advanced all the way to the championship match before bowing out. The summer following the 1947 high school double, he won his first of two straight West Penn Junior titles and, even more impressive, the first of five West Penn Amateur championships, the area’s most prestigious non-pro event. At the time, he was the youngest winner ever. With those sparkling credentials, he headed toward his brilliant collegiate career at Wake Forest College and the greater glory that was to come.