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Golf world pays respects to Palmer at memorial

NEW YORK (AFP) – 

A who’s who of the golfing world gathered on Tuesday to pay tribute at a memorial service for Arnold Palmer, celebrating the life of the trailblazing legend who died last month at the age of 87.

Stars of the United States’ victorious Ryder Cup team were among a galaxy of golfing giants crowded into the Saint Vincent Basilica in Palmer’s Pennsylvania hometown of Latrobe for the three-hour service.

They took their seats in a congregation which included golfers spanning multiple decades, including Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Nick Faldo.

Palmer’s close friend Charlie Mechem opened the tributes to the late golfing legend, whose worldwide legion of followers were affectionately known as “Arnie’s Army.”

“This is the elite battalion of Arnie’s Army, as it should be,” Mechem said.

“We’re all heartbroken by the passing of our dear friend, but sadness and grief is not the tone Arnold or his family would want for this day.

“I want you to smile because he smiled about 95 percent of the time. When he missed a putt maybe, whatever, gotta be happy.”

US Ryder Cup stars Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson were also among the crowd.

Fowler and Watson arrived clutching the Ryder Cup, which the USA wrested back from Europe last weekend after three consecutive defeats.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to bring it here today,” Fowler told an interviewer on the Golf Channel television network shortly before the service got under way.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem admitted he had found it hard to put his sadness at Palmer’s passing to one side.

“I got the same instructions which were to make this an uplifting celebration but I can tell you it’s really, really hard to do that because we come here with heavy hearts,” Finchem said.

“When we talk about Arnold’s legacy I don’t believe it’s a legacy of the past. It’s a living legacy that he has left us.”

Palmer, who died on September 25, won 62 titles on the PGA Tour during a career that saw him play a huge role in bringing golf to a mainstream audience.

His haul of titles included four US Masters green jackets, two British Opens and one US Open title.

© 2016 AFP