Photo Credit: White House/Samantha Appleton
President Barack Obama signs the Arnold Palmer Gold Medal Act in the Oval Office, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009. Looking on from left are: Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, Arnold Palmer, Mrs. Kathleen Palmer, Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee, Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and Rep. Joe Baca of California (at front). Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton.
The award will make Palmer the first sports person in history to receive all 3 of the United States highest civilian honors including the National Sports Award from former President Bill Clinton in 1993 (a one-time award) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President George W. Bush in 2004.
"I don't know that I've done anything to deserve it, but I accept," Mr. Palmer said yesterday from his office at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla. "That's pretty fantastic."
The Congressional Gold Medal was first given to George Washington in 1776 and to 141 exemplary Americans since. "I didn't know George Washington," Palmer said with a grin. "But if I did, I would shake his hand and say, 'You're the first, and I won't be the last.'"
Palmer will become the fifth athlete to receive the honor from Congress, which is considered the highest expression of national appreciation for achievements and contributions. Byron Nelson is the only other golfer to receive the medal, which was given posthumously in 2006.
The Arnold Palmer Gold Medal Act, H.R. 1243, was introduced by Congressman Joe Baca (D-California) and first passed the House of Representatives in April and was unanimously passed by the Senate on Palmer's 80th birthday on September 10th. U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who lives in Orlando, sponsored the Senate bill nominating Mr. Palmer for the medal. Such bills must be cosponsored by at least two-thirds of the members of the House and 67 in the Senate before even being considered in the respective chambers.
"Arnold Palmer is a legend and a giant among golfers," said Rep. Baca. "Arnold elevated the game of golf both at home and abroad, and is respected across the globe. He won 92 championships in professional competition, but even more significant, he is an exemplary American who always gave back to others."
Arnold Palmer's charismatic personality, swashbuckling style of golf and unfailing sense of kindness and thoughtfulness have endeared him to millions throughout the world. Palmer and his late wife Winnie have supported numerous philanthropic causes, including the March of Dimes, nature conservation, cancer prevention and women's and children's health. He has founded the Arnold Palmer Pavilion at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the Arnold Palmer Medical Center in Orlando, Florida where the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies are located, which celebrated it's 20th anniversary on its namesakes' birthday this year.
Adding to the historical significance, one year later to this day, Coast Guardsman vet Palmer received the prestigious Lone Sailor Award in Washington by the U.S. Navy Memorial to Sea Service veterans "who have excelled with distinction at their respective careers while exemplifying the core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment." Palmer told the crowd, "Those three words are what life is all about as far as I'm concerned."
"It's pretty good stuff," Palmer said. "Quite overwhelming."