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Steve Murray

Doc Shows Arnie Is Still The King

Even among golf's elite, Arnold Palmer (left) stands out. Also pictured are Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Augusta chairman Billy Payne | AP photo

Even among golf’s elite, Arnold Palmer (left) stands out. Also pictured are Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Augusta chairman Billy Payne | AP photo

Narrator Tom Selleck begins Golf Channel’s three-part documentary on Arnold Palmer asking a profound question: How do you tell the life story of a person who has been bigger than life?

It’s a great question. Biography quickly can turn into hagiography when documenting someone who has helped shape history. Palmer is just such a figure. He’s bigger than golf. He is the most important athlete in the history of American sport.

Palmer trails Jackie Robinson as a symbol of advancement and national growth. Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan exist as historic and statistical landmarks, neither of which Arnie can claim. Palmer leads in just about every other category.

This isn’t Golf Channel’s first outstanding documentary. In 2009, Uneven Fairways told of the struggle and dignity of African-American golfers who were forced to create their own tour when the PGA had a whites-only policy.

Arnie is a much different story. His is a life whose only restriction was his own drive and imagination. He lacked neither.

Palmer laughs while recalling his round of trash talking with Roger Maris. He speaks warmly of his presidential friendships that included Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama, perhaps others. He cried when talking about his first wife Winnie and what he owes his “army.”

It’s hard to see heroes cry.

And what about the notion that Palmer is sport’s most important athlete? Take a look.

* Palmer took a game reserved for the nation’s economic elite and brought it to the masses.

* With manager and partner Mark McCormick, he invented the business of sports marketing.

* He helped establish the modern PGA Tour, which was floundering under the control of the PGA of America.

* He and a few 50-plus golfers created the Champions Tour. It was Palmer’s involvement that made it viable.

* Against the advice of almost everyone, he put his name and money behind a crazy idea – a 24-hour golf channel.

* He set a world record by circumnavigating the globe in a Lear jet.

* He is just the sixth athlete to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

* He has kept every letter, postcard and telegram he has been sent, and spends thousands of dollars each year on return postage.

* He’s built golf courses, designed clubs and has a clothing line that became fashionable outside the world of golf.

* His signature ice tea/lemonade drink, which was sold to AriZona beverages and now features sport drinks bearing his likeness, had sales of $100 million in 2010.

* His two Florida hospitals have birthed, treated and saved more than 1.5 million children and mothers.

Who else you got?

smurray@midweek.com

Twitter: @SteveMurray84

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