By Larry Fine
AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Arnold Palmer came to be known as "The King" but the man who helped popularize the game of golf in the 1950s embraced his humble origins on Tuesday.
Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of his last Masters win,
the 84-year-old Palmer said he often thinks about his days as a boy and dreaming of becoming a pro golfer.
The son of a greenkeeper who introduced him to the game of golf, Palmer still takes great pride in remembering how he used to drive tractors and cut the grass at Latrobe Country.
"It taught me to be humble and to know where I came from," Palmer told a news conference honoring him on his 1964 victory at Augusta National. "I suppose I think about my father and the things that he told me when I was driving that tractor.
"I would drive it on the side of the hill with the old Fordson steel wheels with the steel spikes on it, and if you didn't keep them flat on the ground, and you had a weight on the back you were pulling, it would spin and it would tear the golf course up.
"And that got my attention. It got my attention, because the old man was about to kick my ass all the way around that golf course if I didn't learn how to drive the tractor," he said drawing howls of laughter from reporters. "It was like playing golf, do what he tells you to do."
Palmer, a seven-time major winner, recalled his first Masters Tournament after playing on the winter circuit when he turned professional.
"It was so wonderful to drive to Augusta and to the club and the Masters in 1955," he said. "I played the winter tour for the first time and the golf courses were, let's say, less than great.
"When I got here, I felt like I was walking on a cloud. It was so beautiful. It was something that I had dreamt about all my life and here I was for my first Masters, playing in the Masters Tournament."
Palmer, whose charismatic, slashing style spawned a legion of followers known as "Arnie's Army" and made golf popular viewing on the burgeoning new media of television, tied for 10th in his first Masters.
Three years later, he won the first of four green jackets.
He won 62 PGA tournaments in total but said the 1964 Masters victory was his most satisfying.
"My one thing that was disappointing to me in my existence here playing in the Masters was that I won three times and it was a squeaker every time," said Palmer, who won by one stroke in 1958 and 1960 and in a playoff in 1962.
"The one thing I wanted to do here, after having won three times, was walk up 18 feeling comfortable," he added, giving a 'thumbs-up' sign indicating how he would share his joy with the galleries.
The King got to do just that in 1964 on his way to a six-stroke romp with a 12-under-par total.
"When we (he and playing partner Dave Marr) teed off at 18 the last day, I was comfortable," said Palmer.
"I felt like if I could just keep it down that narrow fairway, I would be all right. And I sort of casually said to David, 'If I can help you, David, I will.'
"And he looked at me and he says, 'You can help me.'
"And I said, "How is that, David?"
He says, "Make nine."
(Editing by Julian Linden)
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- Arnold Palmer