(NEW YORK) — With his unmistakable swing – and charm – seven-time major champion Arnold Palmer helped bring professional golf into the television era.
In fact, Tiger Woods and other professional golfers teed off today for the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, hosted by the 83-year-old. The legendary golfer still draws a crowd and his name is bigger than ever.
That’s also partly because of a combination of two classics — iced tea and lemonade — that Palmer popularized and that’s become one of the fastest-growing beverages in the U.S.
Palmer said it all started at a Palm Springs, Calif., restaurant in the 1960s.
“I said: ‘Would you make me an iced tea and bring some pure lemonade?’ — and she said, ‘Sure,’” Palmer told ABC News. “I had a big glass of iced tea and I put lemonade on it and, boy, was it good! Well, a lady at a table nearby heard me do that and she said, ‘I want a Palmer.’”
He didn’t make any money off his namesake drink until recently, when he teamed with Arizona Beverage Co., a market leader in the iced tea space. It did not immediately catch on, though, as most considered the drink to fit a niche market of golfers on the course.
“Over the first few years, I say, most companies our size would have given up on it,” said Don Vultaggio, Arizona’s chairman. “Because, you know, if the numbers don’t reach what I’ll call a ‘meaningful number’ after six months, most large companies will say, ‘Eh, it’s not worth it.’”
Vultaggio said he didn’t give up on the idea, though, because he liked Palmer and believed, “there was gold there, but it was deep down.”
Without advertising, Arizona’s “Arnold Palmer” did nearly $200 million in sales in the U.S. last year, making it the fourth-largest iced tea brand in the nation behind Arizona, Lipton and Snapple.
Neither Palmer nor Arizona would reveal how much the golfer makes off the deal, but it is one of the reasons why, in 2012, Palmer, whose last tournament win came 25 years ago, earned more than any other golfer except Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Today, some of his biggest customers are teenagers, according to Arizona. Some may know him more as a face on a can than for his prowess on the course.
“Some of the kids are asked about the Arnold Palmer and they say: ‘Oh the drink!’ They don’t know that I played golf,” he said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Patrick Gillespie, CNN Newswire
Sam Turner, Deseret News