Arnold Palmer: Rare and Classic Photos of Golf’s Superstar Everyman

In a huge, multi-page profile of Arnold Palmer that ran in a June 1962 issue of LIFE, writer Paul O’Neil ably outlined the then-32-year-old’s formidable talents while highlighting Palmer’s relentless pursuit of golfing perfection:

Golf is essentially an exercise in masochism conducted out of doors; it affords opportunity for a certain swank, it induces a sense of kinship in its victims and it forces them to breathe fresh air, but it is, at bottom, an elaborate and addictive rite calculated to drive them crazy for hours on end and send them straight to the whisky bottle after that. . . . Golf’s occasional moments of joy, like those afforded by heroin or slot machines, only lure the dupe deeper into frustration, and the better the player the more horrible the contrast becomes. Millions who follow the game have been absolutely confounded, as a result, by certain recent developments in the life of a young man named Arnold Palmer. Palmer seems to have golf licked. 

It is not so much Palmer’s accomplishments, however [He won six of the first 14 tournaments he entered in 1962, an utterly phenomenal record. — Ed.], as his method of achieving them which has captured the imagination of multitudes. Golf tournaments, by ancient axiom, are not won — they are lost. A tight tournament can be lost by one drive into the rough or one approach shot in a sand trap. . . . But Palmer, a positive thinker of the most untrammeled variety, actually seems to be able to win — to run the game, no matter who is playing, rather than let it run him.

That phrase, pointing out that Palmer had “captured the imagination of multitudes,” is especially resonant today, all these years later, when Arnold Palmer is arguably the most beloved golfer on the planet. Tiger Woods might inspire more passion — it seems people either love him or hate him — and Jack Nicklaus is, on paper, the greatest golfer who ever lived. But Arnold Palmer is a superstar athlete, a living legend, an Everyman of the links who has somehow managed to maintain the matinee-idol aura that drove countless fans — men and women — to such distraction that they comprised that memorably named, unofficial fan club: Arnie’s Army.

(He also has one of the world’s most wonderful drinks named after him — which only adds to his saga.)

Here, as the 114th U.S. Open gets set to kick off in Pinehurst, N.C., LIFE celebrates the life and career of the one and only Arnold Palmer, now 84 years old and still kicking, through photos made six decades ago, when he was a young man who “seemed to have golf licked.”

Arnold Palmer and products bearing his name, 1962.

John Dominis—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Arnold Palmer and products bearing his name, 1962.