Golfing legend Arnold Palmer, known during his prime as “the King,” was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal today in a ceremony in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Palmer, 83, is just the sixth athlete, and second golfer, to receive the honor. He is currently ranked fifth all-time in PGA tour wins, with 62 — including seven major championships.
As he began his remarks in the rotunda, Palmer joked that at a time of fractious politics, he was “particularly proud of anything that the House and the Senate agree on.”
“It’s humbling to realize that just six athletes have been [given] this gold medal award,” Palmer said. “I like to think and truly believe that golf and golfers promote some sort of human values that symbolize such characteristics as honesty, hard work, dedication, responsibility, respect for the other guy, playing by the rules. Kinda something we do in the game in golf.”
“I am very humbled,” he added. “Thank you very much.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, an avid golfer, said “what makes this medal unique is that any American can win it, whether it be a general, an artist, an astronaut, or an athlete,” and he commended Palmer as a “model of integrity, passion and commitment.”
“Arnold Palmer democratized golf, made us think that we too could go out and play. Made us think that we could really do anything, really. All we had to do was to go out and try.” Boehner said as he struggled to maintain his composure. “Arnold, you’ve struck our hearts and our minds, and today your government, your fellow citizens are going to strike a gold medal for you.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also commended Palmer for leaving “his mark off the links” through his charities and philanthropic outreach.
“Golf made you famous, but your tireless efforts to save lives, not your short game, will make you immortal,” Reid, D-Nev., said.
The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom — which Palmer received in 2004 from President George W. Bush — are the country’s highest civilian awards. Among the other athletes that have been honored with the congressional gold medal are track Olympian Jesse Owens, baseball hall of famers Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson, boxing icon Joe Louis and fellow golfer Byron Nelson.