The Most Rewarding Things You Do in Life Are Often the Ones that Look Like They Cannot Be Done

Arnold Palmer? John Sutton? Anonymous?

golf08Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement about overcoming obstacles is attributed to the famous golfer Arnold Palmer:

The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.

I am graduating soon and would like to use this as my yearbook quotation. The words are attributed to Palmer on several websites, but no citation is provided. Unfortunately, misinformation about quotations is rampant online as this website reveals. Would you please explore the provenance of this expression?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in an August 1966 speech delivered by Leslie B. Worthington who was the President of U.S. Steel Corporation. The full text of the address was printed in “The Baytown Sun” newspaper of Baytown, Texas. Worthington credited Arnold Palmer with the saying. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

As a friend of mine up in Pennsylvania — a pretty fair golfer by the name of Arnie Palmer — remarked some time ago: “The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1971 an advertisement for an automotive repair service company specializing in transmissions was published in “The Hutchinson News” of Hutchinson, Kansas. The proprietor, John Sutton, included a version of the saying that was phrased differently. No attribution was given: 2

Our most rewarding deeds are the ones that look like they can’t be done.

In 1977 a compilation from Lloyd Cory titled “Quote Unquote” included the quotation with an ascription to Palmer: 3

The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done. (Arnold Palmer)

In 1988 “The Speaker’s Sourcebook: Quotes, Stories, and Anecdotes for Every Occasion” by Glenn Van Ekeren printed a precisely marching quotation and credited Palmer. 4

In 2007 a newspaper in Australia published a set of expressions ascribed to the outstanding golfer: 5

Great quotes from Arnold Palmer

“Your worst putt will be as close as your best chip.”

“The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.”

“The road to success is always under construction.”

In conclusion, QI believes that Arnold Palmer did make this remark. No substantive alternative ascriptions were uncovered during research. Citations before 1966 probably exist. The earliest citation above only presented indirect testimony, and a direct excerpt from an interview with Palmer would provide superior evidence. Hence, there is room for improvement.

Image Notes: Picture of golf ball and hole by Golfer at Pixabay. Picture of Arnold Palmer taken while he was in the United States Coast Guard circa 1953 via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been cropped and resized.

(Great thanks to DJ whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1966 August 11, The Baytown Sun, U.S. Steel Boss Lauds Baytown Council, CC For Spur Action, (Article contains full text of speech delivered in Houston, Texas by Leslie B. Worthington who was the President of U.S. Steel Corporation), Quote Page 8, Column 4, Baytown, Texas. (NewspaperArchive)
  2. 1971 September 14, The Hutchinson News, (Advertisement for Sutton Transmission Service: “The Light Touch” by John Sutton), Quote Page 10, Column 4, Hutchinson, Kansas. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1977, Quote Unquote, Compiled by Lloyd Cory, Section: Achievement, Quote Page 7, Published by Victor Books: A Division of SP Publications, Wheaton, Illinois. (Verified on paper)
  4. 1988, The Speaker’s Sourcebook: Quotes, Stories, and Anecdotes for Every Occasion by Glenn Van Ekeren, Section: Achievement, Quote Page 14, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  5. 2007 February 8, Queensland Regional Publications: Published as The Gold Coast Bulletin, Article title: Palmer’s – Pearls, MainSection: SportPage, Page Number Not Listed, News Source Location: Australia. (NewsBank Access World News)