When golf historians look back on the 1960s they may contend that the man who had the most significant influence on the structure of the game never came close to winning a Masters or U.S. Open. He would be Mark H. McCormack, the 36-year-old attorney from Cleveland who for seven years has represented golf's biggest star, Arnold Palmer. With considerable drive and inspiration, McCormack has counseled Palmer, managed him, marketed him, scheduled him and helped him through the complex corridors of the business world. As a result, Palmer has become the richest professional in the history of golf, or perhaps any other game.
McCormack, whose talents for his role are perfect—a good golfer's instinct for the game and a tough legal mind—not only is the business manager for Palmer, but also represents Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who join Palmer in constituting the Big Three.
There are two widely publicized stories about the way McCormack and Palmer got together. Both of them are wrong. They did not become friends in their college days, when Palmer played on the Wake Forest golf team and McCormack played for William and Mary. Nor were they chums when Palmer was in the Coast Guard and stationed in Cleveland. McCormack did see Palmer for the first time during a college match in Raleigh, N.C. in 1950: "I remember this strong-looking guy on the practice tee, rifling out two-irons like Sam Snead, with a group of spectators around him. I knew if he played against me William and Mary was sure to lose a point." Later McCormack spotted the teammate, who was pitted against Palmer on the 6th tee and asked how he stood. "I'm even par," said the William and Mary man. "And 3 down."
In the late 1950s there were occasions when McCormack got to shake hands with Palmer, but strictly as a fan. It was not until 1958, after McCormack and a partner named Dick Taylor had formed a company called National Sports Management, Inc. (essentially to arrange exhibitions for touring professionals), that Palmer actually learned McCormack's name. In the winter of 1959 Palmer asked McCormack to give up NSM and represent him personally.
The decision was not as easy as it now seems. National Sports Management had other stars—among them U.S. Open Winner Bill Casper, and Masters Champion Art Wall. Arnold Palmer was not all that overpowering then. McCormack thought he might be, however, and made a choice that changed pro golf forever. One of the things that pleases him most today is that he—a lawyer trained to get things in writing—sealed his deal with Palmer with a handshake, and that is the only contract the two of them have ever had, or needed.
Now, in a book that will be published next fall by Simon and Schuster, from which these excerpts have been taken, McCormack has turned biographer, telling about the Arnold Palmer he knows and admires and why he feels that there has never before been such a figure in sport.