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The King is gone

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Golfing great Palmer dies at 87.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Arnold Palmer, the golf great whose charisma and common touch drew a legion of fans known as “Arnie’s Army’’ and propelled the game into the mainstream, died Sunday at the age of 87.

“Arnold Palmer will always be a champion, in every sense of the word,’’ the US Golf Association said in a statement mourning the death of “golf’s greatest ambassador.’’

“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.’’

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.

No cause of death was immediately given.

“We just lost one of the incredible people in the game of golf and in all of sports,’’ 18-time major champion Jack Nicklaus said.

“He has always been a fighter and he never gave up on anything. He didn’t give up even now. Maybe his body did, but I know Arnold’s will and spirit did not.’’

Palmer, known as “The King,’’ 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 make the sport accessible to a much wider audience.

His rise – along with those of 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.

“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.

For the first time in 10 years, he didn’t swing a club, instead sitting in a chair to watch the spectacle.

In June, he elected not to travel to Oakmont, Pennsylvania, for the US Open in his home state.

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