2006: All-time money leader

By John Steinbreder

It often is said that golfers fortunate enough to earn a living on the PGA Tour should never miss an opportunity to thank Arnold Palmer for all he did to make the circuit such a popular and lucrative enterprise. After all, it was his boyish charm and audacious play that first attracted mainstream fans and sponsors to the game, and built the base from which modern pros are able to make their millions.

But those fellows also would be wise to express their gratitude to the late Mark H. McCormack.

It was McCormack who deftly packaged and promoted the young Palmer after the two famously formed a handshake business partnership in 1960 and went on to enlighten players all over the world as to how much they really should be making for everything from golf exhibitions to product endorsements.

At the same time, McCormack showed corporate America – and the people who bought and sold its goods and services – that associating with professional athletes in general, and golfers in particular, was as fun as it was good business.

But McCormack, who died May 16, 2003, did not stop there. Through the still vast and formidable company (International Management Group, now known as IMG) that grew out of his relationship with Palmer, he educated organizations such as the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews on how they could derive more monies from their cherished Open Championship. He put on events such as the World Match Play in England and the Skins Game in the U.S., and helped construct resorts and courses from Germany to Malaysia. And he created the Official World Golf Ranking, which not only prospered as a marketing tool for its original sponsor, Sony, but also became the primary measuring device for success among players of the game.

What followed his many efforts was a sea of change in the world of sports as profound as that industry has ever seen, with McCormack unleashing a veritable tidal wave of business opportunities as he instigated a whole new way of thinking outside the ropes.

Not surprisingly, golf has never been the same.

Make no mistake, Palmer was the one whomfans, advertisers, TV executives and tournament organizers wanted to see and be around. But it was McCormack who recognized how much Arnie really could help them, and how much that help was worth. Then, he applied it to other golfers who came into his stable, first with Jack Nicklaus, then with Gary Player and eventually a host of others.

“No one helped grow golf from a business standpoint more than Mark McCormack,” said Palmer.

And no one helped Palmer more than McCormack. In many ways, Palmer is acknowledging that by serving as presenter for McCormack’s induction Oct. 30 into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

The son of a Midwest farm journal publisher, McCormack first got interested in golf growing up in Chicago, where he began playing the game as therapy after suffering a skull fracture in an auto accident. He became good enough to win the city prep title and went on to play No. 1 on the golf team at William & Mary, sometimes competing against a fellow on the Wake Forest squad named Palmer. After graduating from Yale Law School and serving a stint in the Army, McCormack joined the Cleveland firm of Arter & Hadden, settling into life as a big-city lawyer.

But McCormack said he wanted to do more than simply work his way to the corner office as he performed the most basic of legal tasks. So, he began booking golf exhibitions for professional players on the side. Before long, they were asking him to review their endorsement contracts. Then Palmer asked McCormack to represent him exclusively.

Over time, McCormack built that relationship with Palmer into IMG, which at its peak had 80 offices in 30 countries, employed 2,500 people and boasted revenues of roughly $1 billion. McCormack expanded the business into many sports, representing Jackie Stewart in auto racing, Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg in tennis, and Jean-Claude Killy in skiing.

McCormack also operated out of the sporting world, handling affairs at different times for the Nobel Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, violinist Itzhak Perlman and, perhaps most famously, Pope John Paul II, whose 1982 tour of Great Britain was promoted by IMG.

There are probably several Halls of Fame in which McCormack could be honored. But the World Golf Hall of Fame is the first one of significance to enshrine him, and that seems entirely appropriate. After all, golf was McCormack’s first love, both as a competitor good enough to qualify for the 1958 U.S. Open and also as a businessman who saw it produce the lion’s share of revenues at his firm for many years. More importantly, it is the game in which he made his greatest mark, strongly felt to this day.

So much so, even Arnold Palmer is thanking him.

Welcome to Golfweek.com's comments section.
Please review the posting guidlines here: Golfweek.com Community Guidelines.
All accounts must be verified using Disqus email verification