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posted: 4/15/2014 5:18 AM

Looking back on a childhood hero -- Arnold Palmer

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  • Now 84 years old, Arnold Palmer still commands attention whenever he steps on a golf course, as he did at last week's Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

      Now 84 years old, Arnold Palmer still commands attention whenever he steps on a golf course, as he did at last week's Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
    Associated Press

 
By Mike North
The Rebel Inside

As I was watching the Masters golf tournament, it occurred to me that my first real sports hero, Arnold Palmer, was still going strong at the age of 84.

Before sports legends such as Walter Payton, Joe Montana, Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan caught my attention, Palmer was the man.

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I grew up in Chicago on the North Side, and the guy who seemed to be on TV more than anyone else was Palmer, a guy with a stick hitting a little ball. I had to be about 7 years old, and every week this guy was walking across this beautiful green grass called a fairway.

Back then, Palmer was young, brazen, and really good at what he did. He was blessed with charisma, and I couldn't help but root for him to win.

I know anyone younger reading this column might not quite understand, but there weren't many national sports heroes back then. Most of our heroes were local, because there wasn't the coverage there is now.

Baseball had one national game a week, and the NBA had a Sunday game featuring three or four teams with guys such as Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.

In Chicago, we had the Blackhawks with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, the Bears with Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus, the Cubs with Ernie Banks, and even earlier in my life we had the great second baseman of the White Sox, Nellie Fox.

There was no NBA season pass or MLB season ticket packages letting you watch all the games all the time. Heck the Bears were blacked out at home sometimes, and my dad and uncles would drive to Rockford to watch the game.

But golf was always on and Arnold Palmer was always there.

As I watched him hit the opening shot of this year's Masters, I contemplated how much longer he would be performing. What a run he has had -- still able to whack the ball successfully at his age -- and he's been very fortunate.

Some of my other personal sports heroes haven't been so lucky, such as the sharp shooter "Pistol" Pete Maravich, who passed away at 40, and of course the great Walter Payton, who died at 45.

Television owes a debt of gratitude to Palmer, and so does every golfer today. I wasn't the biggest golf fan as a kid but when Palmer was leading, it was different. And today, that's what Tiger Woods brings to the table too.

There are people who love golf because of Tiger Woods. At the age of 38, it might be almost over for him, and how fast was that? But Tiger holds that same special type of place in golf like Palmer. Hopefully, fans someday will watch Tiger hit the honorary shot at the Masters.

He is someone's hero -- just like Arnie was mine.

Program notes:

Follow me on Twitter@ north2north, and listen to Fox Sports Daybreak with Andy Furman and myself from 5-8 a.m. Monday through Friday on Fox Sports radio. Catch my show from 7-11 a.m. Sundays, and check me out on iHeart radio or Foxsportsradio.com.

• Mike North's column appears each Tuesday and Friday in the Daily Herald, and his video commentary can be found Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at dailyherald.com. For more, visit northtonorth.com.

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