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'Arnie's Army' assembles in Latrobe to honor Palmer

| Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, 9:51 a.m.

Legends from around the world of golf — and the world itself — gathered Tuesday on a sunny, fall day in Arnold Palmer's backyard of Latrobe to share memories and stories, laughter and a few tears about the storied life of the common man-turned-King.

In an emotional speech, Hall-of-Famer Jack Nicklaus spoke eloquently of his biggest golf rival and decades-long close friend. The Golden Bear noted that Palmer's competitiveness carried over from golf courses during their heyday to their senior years, even playing bridge with their wives.

"I hurt like you hurt," Nicklaus told a crowd of about 800 mourners gathered inside St. Vincent Basilica and hundreds more watching at public viewing spots around campus as well as on television broadcasts elsewhere.

"You don't lose a friend of 60 years and don't feel an enormous loss," Nicklaus said, choking back emotion. "He was everyone's hero, and he let the world share in his greatness. Today, I'm a proud soldier of Arnie's Army. ... He was indeed the king of our sport."

People watching outside the basilica were equally as passionate about Palmer's impact on the sport and region until his death Sept. 25 at UPMC Shadyside in Pittsburgh. He was 87.

Golfer Rickie Fowler arrived proudly carrying the Ryder Cup trophy, which the U.S. team won Sunday for the first time since 2008. Palmer was part of six winning Ryder Cup teams.

Team members brought the gold chalice in his honor, said captain Davis Love III. "It's a sad day, but it's also part of the celebration," he said.

Among the many other professional golfers in attendance were Lee Trevino, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Ernie Els, Peter Jacobsen, Nick Faldo, Craig Sadler, Curtis Strange, Fuzzy Zoeller and Juli Inkster, a member of the LPGA.

Government dignitaries included former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former Gov. Tom Corbett.

Palmer's private jet made several flybys over the basilica before and after the ceremony.

Palmer was a sports, business and philanthropic icon who popularized golf and left a benevolent legacy in Western Pennsylvania.

Tim Finchem, commissioner of the PGA Tour since 1994, said his close friend revolutionized the game during the 1960s.

He told the audience that Palmer was able to convey his "deep, deep love and affection" for the sport with kings, queens, generals and presidents.

"He was proud to be a professional golfer," Finchem said. "He unleashed an incredible growth of the game."

Young players and older statesmen in golf respected him, Finchem said. He told a story of recently lunching with Palmer in Vail, Colo. Rory McIlroy came by, and Arnie offered to do anything for the golfer now ranked No. 3 in the world.

"Rory replied, 'All that you've done for me is all I'll ever need,' " Finchem said.

Annika Sorenstam, a native of Sweden and one of the game's most successful female players, said Palmer was a hero of the masses.

"Arnold Palmer was the common man, but so far from common. He made everyone feel special," Sorenstam said.

Sorenstam noted Palmer's philanthropy and how it benefited her family after they moved to Florida at the end of her career.

In 2011, Sorenstam had a son, Will, who was born nine weeks premature and weighed just 2 pounds.

For the next 57 days, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando became her family's home, she said. Palmer was a regular visitor. He became so attached to her son, Sorenstam said, she and her son referred to him as "Uncle Arnie" on a trip last summer to the King and Queen, a Minnesota golf course the two helped design.

Golf courses across the country bear Palmer's name. He even purchased Latrobe Country Club, where he learned the game.

The Westmoreland County Airport was renamed the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in 1999, on Palmer's 70th birthday.

The day of his memorial service marked the airport's busiest day ever, executive director Gabe Monzo said.

"We had 60 private jets come in, and I have to say the airport crew and everyone involved with getting them over to the basilica did one heck of a job," he said.

Palmer had a special relationship with nearby St. Vincent College that began when he was a boy and continued through his life. He was a commencement speaker in 1996 and frequently visited campus for events.

Mourners said Palmer's community bonds were strong

Latrobe natives Joan Welsh-Seymour and Patricia McKaig arrived on campus early, sipping morning coffee while waiting for the service.

"He was part of Latrobe, and, to me, I feel like he was part of my family," said Welsh-Seymour of Maryland. "He's done so much for the community."

Both women were high school classmates of Palmer's siblings. He was a 1947 graduate of Latrobe High School.

"He's from our hometown, and we wanted to just support the family," said McKaig, of Connecticut, "even though we haven't seen them in 50 years."

St. Vincent Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, a friend of Palmer's, opened the service by extending condolences to Palmer's family and his extended family, Arnie's Army.

While planning the ceremony, Palmer's grandson and PGA golfer Sam Saunders had one request: that all be able to attend, Nowicki said.

"My grandfather wouldn't want anyone turned away," he said Saunders told him.

Other speakers included Jim Nantz, broadcaster with CBS Sports; Russ Meyer, former Cessna executive; Peter Dawson, former chief executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland; and Charlie Mechem, former LPGA commissioner and master of the ceremony.

Avid golfer and country music artist Vince Gill, after listening to Nantz and Nicklaus relay humorous stories of Palmer having trouble with hearing later in life, added a quip of his own before performing the classic "You've Got a Friend" to close the ceremony.

"Now I know why I was Arnie's favorite singer," Gill cracked about his longtime friend. "He never heard a note I sang."

Staff writers Paul Peirce and Renatta Signorini can be reached at ppeirce@tribweb.com or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

Country musician Vince Gill performs during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Country musician Vince Gill performs during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
A moment of silence is observed with family and friends following a memorial service in honor of golf legend Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
A moment of silence is observed with family and friends following a memorial service in honor of golf legend Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Arnold Palmer looks out over the crowd of more than 800 family and friends, as the Ryder Cup sits in the foreground, after Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson brought it back to Latrobe, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Arnold Palmer looks out over the crowd of more than 800 family and friends, as the Ryder Cup sits in the foreground, after Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson brought it back to Latrobe, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Friends and family give Arnold Palmer the 'well done' thumbs up at the bequest of friend Tim Finich, the PGA Tour Commissioner, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Friends and family give Arnold Palmer the 'well done' thumbs up at the bequest of friend Tim Finich, the PGA Tour Commissioner, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
The U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard present the colors during public memorial service to honor Arnold Palmer of Latrobe at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard present the colors during public memorial service to honor Arnold Palmer of Latrobe at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, speaks about his grandfather during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer, at the St Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, speaks about his grandfather during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer, at the St Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, speaks about his grandfather during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer, at the St Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, speaks about his grandfather during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer, at the St Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports fixes the tie of Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus prior to the start of a public memorial service for the late Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports fixes the tie of Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus prior to the start of a public memorial service for the late Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
(Right) Doc Giffin, longtime assistant commonly referred to as Palmer's right-hand man and his wife Bunny Giffin, greet country music artist Vince Gill prior to the start of a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
(Right) Doc Giffin, longtime assistant commonly referred to as Palmer's right-hand man and his wife Bunny Giffin, greet country music artist Vince Gill prior to the start of a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports gives a thumbs up gesture commonly associated with Arnold Palmer of Latrobe, while speaking during a  a public memorial service to honor the golf legend at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports gives a thumbs up gesture commonly associated with Arnold Palmer of Latrobe, while speaking during a a public memorial service to honor the golf legend at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett listens as Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, talks about the life of his grandfather during a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett listens as Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, talks about the life of his grandfather during a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus wipes away a tear after making his remarks about the life of the late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe during a  a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus wipes away a tear after making his remarks about the life of the late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe during a a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
PGA golfers Bubba Watson, left, and Rickie Fowler arrive in Latrobe on Tuesday with the Ryder Cup to attend a memorial service for the late Arnold Palmer. The U.S. team won the cup on Sunday over the Europeans for the first time since 2008.
Renatta Signorini Tribune-Review
PGA golfers Bubba Watson, left, and Rickie Fowler arrive in Latrobe on Tuesday with the Ryder Cup to attend a memorial service for the late Arnold Palmer. The U.S. team won the cup on Sunday over the Europeans for the first time since 2008.
Family, friends and fans gathered at St. Vincent Basilica in Unity on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 to remember Arnold Palmer.
Kevin Gorman | Tribune-Review
Family, friends and fans gathered at St. Vincent Basilica in Unity on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 to remember Arnold Palmer.
Arnold Palmers private jet N1AP flies over the Saint Vincent College Basilica before the start of his memorial service in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune Review
Arnold Palmers private jet N1AP flies over the Saint Vincent College Basilica before the start of his memorial service in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
The wife of the late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe, Kathleen “Kit” Gawthrop, is surrounded by family and close friends during a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
The wife of the late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe, Kathleen “Kit” Gawthrop, is surrounded by family and close friends during a public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus delivers his remarks during a  a public memorial service for late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Golf Legend Jack Nicklaus delivers his remarks during a a public memorial service for late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Laura Dupre holds a sign of support with the logo of the late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe following a memorial service in honor of the golf legend at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Laura Dupre holds a sign of support with the logo of the late Arnold Palmer of Latrobe following a memorial service in honor of the golf legend at the St. Vincent Basilica on October 4, 2016. Palmer died on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016.
Ricky Fowler, stands with the Ryder Cup, after bringing it to Latrobe, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Ricky Fowler, stands with the Ryder Cup, after bringing it to Latrobe, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, speaks about his grandfather and the encouragement that he was always given, and the last phone conversation that they had, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, speaks about his grandfather and the encouragement that he was always given, and the last phone conversation that they had, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Country music artist Vince Gill, sings a cover of Carole King's 'You've Got a Friend' during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Country music artist Vince Gill, sings a cover of Carole King's 'You've Got a Friend' during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports, recalls a few of his many fond memories of Arnold Palmer, during the public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Jim Nantz of CBS Sports, recalls a few of his many fond memories of Arnold Palmer, during the public memorial service at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Arnold Palmer's jet call sign N1AP flies overhead of memorial service attendees, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Arnold Palmer's jet call sign N1AP flies overhead of memorial service attendees, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Arnold Palmer's jet call sign N1AP flies overhead of memorial service attendees, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Arnold Palmer's jet call sign N1AP flies overhead of memorial service attendees, during the public memorial service for Arnold Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Country musician Vince Gill performs during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Country musician Vince Gill performs during the public memorial for Arnold Palmer at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus gives the 'OK' symbol, as he reminisces about his friendship with Arnold Palmer, during the public memorial service for Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Dan Speicher | For The Tribune-Review
Golf legend Jack Nicklaus gives the 'OK' symbol, as he reminisces about his friendship with Arnold Palmer, during the public memorial service for Palmer, at the St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe, on Tuesday, October 4, 2016.
Arnold Palmer's private jet, tail number N1AP, flies over the statue of Boniface Wimmer during a memorial service for Mr. Palmer on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, at St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Arnold Palmer's private jet, tail number N1AP, flies over the statue of Boniface Wimmer during a memorial service for Mr. Palmer on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016, at St. Vincent Basilica in Latrobe.
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