By The Spotter
He was a golfing legend and a true man of the people with his legion of followers known as ‘Arnie’s Army’, but Arnold Palmer’s significance in the pantheon of professional sport was ground-breaking in itself.
A golf course in Atlanta, Georgia in November, 1958 was the setting for a liaison which was the catalyst for how professional sportspeople would then get on board with their own manager to earn real income from endorsements beyond the field of play.
It was at the Carling Golf Tournament where the entrepreneur and golf fan, Texan Mark McCormack after previously being introduced to Palmer, sounded him out with an initial proposal that would guarantee Palmer a sum of $350.00-500.00 for playing in one-off exhibition rounds. McCormack was true to his word and so impressed Palmer that he was immediately entrusted to be his manager.
That first handshake at the Carling tournament went down in American sporting lore as the most celebrated sporting handshake and one which took sport for better or worse into the world of modern professional sports business management- a real life Jerry Maguire scenario, if you like.
Before McCormack came on the scene, Palmer had a contract with Wilson sports goods (well-known also for their tennis equipment), but the fees were nothing compared to what McCormack could arrange from then on and the giveaways were also somewhat limited- Palmer was entitled to shoes and slacks, his wife just undergarments.
Within two years of signing on Palmer was earning half a million dollars. In 1958 Palmer’s earning were only at $59,000 when he met McCormack. Small wonder that soon after Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hunted down McCormack and asked where to sign.
McCormack was in fact so fastidious about detail that the players could trust him enough not to renege on anything. For example, he once informed a journalist that over the course of a year he had slept for precisely 2,621 hours and that in doing the exercise of jogging on the spot his left foot had touched the floor 147,001 times. (Kind of Howard Hughes-esque, you’d have to say).
The rest as they say, is history. McCormack went on to set up IMG (International Management Group), which became THE premier sports management empire.
*The gist of this piece was taken from: ‘The Spirit of the Game-How sport made the modern world, by Mihir Bose (Constable, 2012). Not one sentence from the original text was replicated or harmed in this re-telling. If you are keen on a bit of sports history, look no further than this book, it’s brilliant.