Arnold Palmer with James Dodson
A Golfer’s Life, Arnold Palmers authorized biography, was published in 1999. James Dodson worked closely with Palmer to craft this rather “cleansed” version of his life to that point. Dodson was a regular columnist for Golf magazine and golf editor for Departures magazine. I particularly enjoyed reading his first book, the highly popular Final Rounds. Dodson does creditable work in keeping this biography in Arnie’s voice. Many of Palmers’ familiar turns of phrase regularly appear in this book, so it does read as though it is Arnie sitting in the grillroom of Bay Hill, spinning the tales.
As authorized biographies go, this is pretty standard fare for anyone interested in a mostly chronological account of one of the most important golfers in history. I say important rather than greatest because Palmer’s contribution to the game went beyond what he was able to achieve on the golf course. The book details his origins in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, his almost accidental collegiate career, his courtship and marriage to Winnie through to his golf career, and his ultimate role as the world’s greatest pitchman.
Palmer is candid in his assessment of his playing career being adversely affected by his many and wide business interests. These were mostly cultivated by his agent Mark McCormack who built the giant IMG on the strength of a handshake agreement with Palmer in 1959. He made himself and Palmer very rich men in the process.
Palmer is less honest about many other chapters of his life, including his complicated relationship with his father, his general insecurities, and his whispered infidelities. To be fair, it is not unusual for the famous to omit certain unpleasant or embarrassing parts of their life. When they don’t, you get a great book like Andre Agassi’s OPEN.
If you love reading about golf and golfers and don’t know much about Arnold Palmer, A Golfer’s Life is an adequate primer to get an understanding of this icon of the sport. However, to get a better and unfiltered version of Palmer’s life, read Ian O’Connor’s Arnie and Jack.