WAYNE PLAYER

Wayne Player played in the Open at 17, and showed great po­ten­tial be­fore quit­ting pro golf. Now 53, and in South Africa for his dad’s 80th party, he re­flects on his life.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - News - By Michael Vlis­mas

‘I was never the hard­est worker when it came to golf.’

Wayne Player’s eyes start to wa­ter at a point in our con­ver­sa­tion that I didn’t ex­pect. For the son of Gary Player, who had the most po­ten­tial and op­por­tu­nity to fol­low in his fa­ther’s foot­steps as a pro­fes­sional golfer, but later chose another path, you would ex­pect these more ob­vi­ous mo­ments as the time for tears.

It is when he says, “I’m a very lucky per­son. I just pray for bless­ings and that I can con­tinue to be healthy. That’s the most im­por­tant thing,” that Player has to pause to gather him­self.

A Type 1 di­a­betic who lives in Jupiter, Florida with his wife Sher­von and three sons Tyler, Jor­dan and Ni­cholas, and who runs a suc­cess­ful events busi­ness, Player has at the age of 53 come to cer­tain re­al­i­sa­tions, and in his own mind an­swered the most ob­vi­ous ques­tions ev­ery­body asks.

“My ca­reer has changed quite a lot. I was an as­pir­ing golf pro with a lot of abil­ity but who never was the hard­est worker in the world. I prob­a­bly rested on my lau­rels think­ing that my ta­lent alone was go­ing to carry me through.We know that’s not the case.

“I mean, there’s noth­ing more com­mon than un­suc­cess­ful men with ta­lent. It’s not that I have been un­suc­cess­ful, but I never re­ally reached the po­ten­tial I had in the game be­cause you have to prac­tice hard. As my dad has al­ways said, the harder you prac­tice the luck­ier you get.

“I was never pre­pared to put in the time to be­come more repet­i­tive.You know, if you’re out play­ing golf you need to hit one shot that looks like ev­ery other shot.You just have to work hard.”

Grow­ing up un­der the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion around be­ing Gary Player’s son, and hav­ing to play golf like him, Wayne showed im­mense early po­ten­tial. He won sev­eral am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional ti­tles and was 17 years old when he made the cut (to­gether with his dad) at the 1979 Open Cham­pi­onship at Royal Lytham. He played in three ma­jors and sev­eral Bri­tish and US Am­a­teurs.

But he wouldn’t be hu­man if he didn’t think about what could have been, and he is quite prag­matic about the de­ci­sion to walk away from the dream of be­com­ing a tour­ing pro­fes­sional.

“I was blessed to have a role model such as my dad who set a great ex­am­ple. But you have to make a liv­ing.To a cer­tain de­gree I was born with a bit of a sil­ver spoon in my mouth. But I still had to be the one to get out there and do it. My dad wasn’t there just giv­ing me ev­ery­thing.”

Even when it comes to his own love of fit­ness and health, Player says there was never a sense that just be­cause his fa­ther per­son­i­fied this that he nat­u­rally grav­i­tated to it as well.

“I used to binge work­out. I’d run a cou­ple of miles a week and think I was get­ting in shape. I don’t think that just be­cause my dad has stayed in shape and the Player name per­son­i­fies health and fit­ness that it lends it­self to me just be­ing the same. You’ve still got to make the ef­fort your­self.

“I’ve been a Type 1 di­a­betic for 23 years. I stay in very good phys­i­cal shape – I do the Cross Fit type cir­cuit train­ing. There are prob­a­bly very few 53 year olds in bet­ter shape than I am. It’s an ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial thing for me to do see­ing I am a Type 1 di­a­betic. I’ve got as­pi­ra­tions of hav­ing my own foun­da­tion to raise more aware­ness or to try and help peo­ple not get di­a­betes. I want to mo­ti­vate them to look af­ter them­selves and to eat well. And for those that do have it, maybe I can help them to live with the prob­lem in a pos­i­tive way.”

Watch­ing his fa­ther at his 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions dur­ing the Gary Player In­vi­ta­tional at The Lost City Golf Club in Novem­ber, Player says he un­der­stood again the words his fa­ther had of­ten said to him.

“I’m very proud of my dad. Time goes by so quickly. My dad has al­ways said that. He al­ways told me to get out there, work harder and never quit, be­cause time will go by very quickly. I may not have been the great­est golf pro, but I played in three ma­jor cham­pi­onships – two Opens and one US Open. My dad and I are the only fa­ther and son to have played in both the Open and the US Open at the same time. I’ve had a great life.

“Now I’d like to keep work­ing on my golf and my fit­ness. I know I haven’t lost the abil­ity that I have. But any time you put a card and pen­cil in your hand and you haven’t played a lot of golf, it’s a nerve-wrack­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery­body’s al­ways try­ing to get bet­ter, even Tiger Woods.”

Another trait he shares with his fa­ther is a love for South Africa. “I miss South Africa ter­ri­bly. When­ever I come back I get quite emo­tional. Even though I’ve been out of South Africa for close on 30 years now.”

For Player, golf is now a so­cial ac­tiv­ity and one he sees more value in through its abil­ity to cre­ate friend­ships than pile up tro­phies.

“Golf has given me great friend­ships, and that’s what it’s all about.The world is a tough enough place to make a liv­ing with­out friend­ships.You know, we all make mis­takes along the way. I did. I had a bad tem­per­a­ment. I threw some clubs and made some mis­takes along the way. But I had a great mom and dad who were role mod­els for me, and even though I mis­be­haved in cer­tain ways, I still knew the right way to be­have around peo­ple.

“Hav­ing re­spect for peo­ple and lis­ten­ing to them – lit­tle things like that are the things that peo­ple will no­tice. Reach­ing out to all peo­ple in life with great re­spect and dig­nity, no mat­ter how small they may be. So when I go out and play golf now with peo­ple, it’s not about the golf. It’s about how I con­nect with those peo­ple on a very sin­cere ba­sis. I’m not a phony. What you see is what you get.”

But he wouldn’t be a Player if there wasn’t still that nag­ging de­sire to al­ways get bet­ter.As he walked off the 18th green at the Lost City Golf Club, mom Vivi­enne was there to hear how the golf went. “My mom said to me, ‘You know, you’re so ded­i­cated to health and fit­ness, you should hit balls for half an hour ev­ery day’. You know what, my mom is right.”

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