Students, faculty, and staff at Wake Forest University are remembering golf great Arnold Palmer, who died on Sunday. Palmer was one of the most distinguished alumni to attend the university.
While Palmer never graduated from Wake Forest, he was responsible for putting the school's golf program on the map.
In his commencement speech to graduates in 2005, Palmer shared his passion for the place where he honed some of his golfing skills.
"I have had a love affair with Wake Forest since my undergraduate days, but I didn't realize until many years later what I had truly learned at Wake Forest, both in and out of the classroom, about the meaning of a productive and meaningful life,” he said.
Palmer's Wake Forest University legacy began while he was a student. He quickly put a spotlight on the college, winning NCAA individual titles in 1949 and 1950, as well as an ACC championship in 1954.
A nine-foot statue of Palmer was dedicated in 2013 in front of the golf complex that bears his name. Now, it's adorned with flowers, golf balls, and his favorite drink: iced tea and lemonade.
Ron Wellman, the athletics director at Wake Forest University, says he was more than just a great sports figure.
“When he came as a trustee of the university, most of those visits he would go to the Pit and just sit down and talk with students,” says Wellman. “He wanted to make sure as a trustee that the students were having a similar experience at the university that he loved, so his impact goes way beyond athletics.”
Palmer also established the first golf scholarship at Wake Forest. It's in honor of his friend Buddy Worsham, who convinced him to attend college there. Sadly, Worsham died in a car accident. Palmer withdrew from the university for three years after that, joining the Coast Guard. Shortly after his return, he went pro. The scholarship he founded continues to provide assistance today.
“At least for my family, it's meant an incredible amount because the scholarship that my brother is coming on for wouldn't be possible without him,” says Skottowe Smith of Charlotte.
Smith, 19, is a freshman at WFU. He stopped by the growing memorial with some of his friends.
“He was always at the forefront of my mind when playing golf and I think watching his highlights and watching just what he's meant to golfers that have impacted me is just incredible,” says Smith. “I think it's awesome being a part of his legacy and I feel like I'm a part of his legacy being at this school, which is awesome.”
Over the years, Palmer became known as “The King,” of golf and won seven majors among his 62 PGA Tour titles.
University officials have created an online tribute page for the community to share their memories of Palmer.
He died of complications from heart problems in Pittsburgh over the weekend. Palmer was 87 years old.
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