WHAT’S GARY PLAYER’S SE­CRET?

Player is keep­ing his swing se­cret close to his chest, but his new Black Book un­cov­ers fresh ma­te­rial about his long ca­reer in the game.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Sunshine Tour - by jaime diaz

Gary Player says he has the se­cret of golf. I know that “the se­cret” has been claimed many times be­fore but never proven. But this is Gary Player. I kind of be­lieve him.

At the Olympics last year, where Player was the South African team cap­tain, he was on the range hit­ting balls, an 80-year-old mar­vel show­ing off. He took out his driver and changed the weight and face set­tings as much as pos­si­ble to favour a hook, the miss that could be­devil Player in his prime.“Now watch,” he said.“Be­cause what I’ve learnt about the swing, there is still no way this ball will hook.All I’ll hit will be per­fect draws.”

Sure enough, with a swing still full of turn and torque, Player smashed six drives in a row. Each was a car­bon copy of tightly pen­e­trat­ing right-to-left flight, trav­el­ling around 230 me­tres.As Player fin­ished his demon­stra­tion, he turned solemn.“I’m sorry this idea came to me so late in life,” he said.“If I had found out what I know now, I would have won many more ma­jors.”

Tellingly, Player, who is usu­ally happy to part with his knowl­edge, is keep­ing the se­cret close.“I’m not ready to part with it yet,” he said.

The earth has seven nat­u­ral won­ders. If golf had such a des­ig­na­tion, Gary Player would be one of them, in an ex­clu­sive club whose only other undis­puted mem­ber might be Sam Snead, or pos­si­bly, if he can step up his pace a bit, Bern­hard Langer (whose idol hap­pens to be Player).

Or we could just present the now 81-year-old’s pack­age of en­ergy, skill, longevity and men­tal acu­ity and nom­i­nate him as the eighth nat­u­ral won­der of the world.

Player, in all hon­esty, wouldn’t dis­agree. He would cite 167 pro­fes­sional tour­na­ments won, in 15 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, mak­ing him if not the great­est golfer in the world (he gives that to Nick­laus), the “great­est world golfer”. He’d in­clude nine ma­jors on the reg­u­lar tour and nine ma­jors on what is now the PGA Tour Cham­pi­ons, the only player to com­plete the ca­reer Grand Slam on both tours (al­though Player counts three Se­nior Open Cham­pi­onships from 2000 through 2002, though the tour­na­ment was not of­fi­cially con­sid­ered a ma­jor). Ba­si­cally, his case would be air­tight, but his dis­in­cli­na­tion to­wards self­dep­re­ca­tion keeps oth­ers from suf­fi­ciently singing his praises.As a re­sult, he’s un­der­rated and un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated.

So it bugs me a lit­tle when there’s not enough of a big deal made when Player does some­thing like make a hole-in-one (the 31st of his life) dur­ing the Masters Par-3 Tour­na­ment last year. Or get some at­ten­tion for hit­ting the cer­e­mo­nial

first drive at the 30th an­niver­sary of the Chubb Clas­sic in Naples, Florida, where Player was the in­au­gu­ral win­ner in 1988. Just like his sim­i­lar role at the Masters, where he now de­lights in out­driv­ing Nick­laus, Player gave the shot in Naples the full treat­ment, nail­ing, yes, an­other ma­chine-like draw that he fol­lowed with nar­rowed, sat­is­fied eyes.

Now his lat­est book, Gary Player’s Black Book, to be launched at the Masters, has got my at­ten­tion.

Sure, I recog­nised some of the ma­te­rial, un­der­stand­able when a renowned ath­lete has put out 18 pre­vi­ous books. But this isn’t re­hash. There’s plenty of fresh stuff in the 201 pages.As Player’s el­dest son, Marc, says,“My father sees life new all the time. Most peo­ple are bored. He never is.”

Con­sider the Black Book the lat­est dis­til­la­tion of Player’s most evolved and bat­tle-tested ideas about the game he has never stopped try­ing to fig­ure out, an au­thor­i­ta­tive and priv­i­leged win­dow into what cham­pi­onship golf takes.As LeeTrevino says in the fore­word:“A per­son like Gary Player does not come around very of­ten. If ever there were a man peo­ple should take ad­vice from, it’s Gary.”

The book is struc­tured by some 60 ques­tions. For ex­am­ple, it asks on page 127,“What is the best ad­vice you could give any­one who wants to turn pro­fes­sional?” To which Player an­swers: “You need to en­joy suf­fer­ing, to make it your friend and to feed off it. I’d ac­cept ad­ver­sity and move on through it. I played with so many golfers who were way bet­ter than me and way more skill­ful, but I won Ma­jors and they didn’t. Jack Nick­laus wasn’t the best striker of a golf ball I ever saw, but he won more ma­jors than any­body.The swing is not the thing.The mind gets you out of a bind.”

In a fol­low-up phone call, which Player – who re­mains sure he has trav­elled more kilo­me­tres on a plane than any hu­man be­ing – took from Abu Dhabi, he traces his abil­ity to han­dle and even in­vite suf­fer­ing to the death of his mother when he was eight.

“You see, some­thing also broke in me that day my mother died,” he said.“I can re­mem­ber ly­ing in bed as a boy cry­ing, wish­ing I was dead. It’s some­thing that I have spent the rest of my life try­ing to fix.There were times in later years dur­ing tour­na­ments that the stress and the lone­li­ness from los­ing her were so pow­er­ful that I could barely make it to the golf course. But I look back, and it was the great­est gift ever be­stowed upon me, be­cause it forced me to cope by de­vel­op­ing a pos­i­tive attitude, which leads to suc­cess.”

At his press con­fer­ence in Naples, Player was typ­i­cally en­thu­si­as­tic – his re­count­ing of Ben Ho­gan get­ting within a few inches of his face in the locker room af­ter the 1958 US Open and telling him he would be a great player is always moving. On the phone, he made sure I knew that “on my holiday this year, I av­er­aged 69 – I can still play re­ally well. I still go to the gym and do more than a thou­sand sit-ups and crunches. I still push more than 159kg with my legs. I still go to the tread­mill and max out the re­sis­tance.”

But it turns out the eter­nal op­ti­mist is also a fa­tal­ist.The man who is always talk­ing about his record doesn’t be­lieve in le­ga­cies. He ac­cepts that what­ever recog­ni­tion he re­ceives – a lot or a lit­tle, enough or not – will soon enough be dust in the wind.

“If you fol­lowed Win­ston Churchill’s life, none of us would be in this room to­day if it wasn’t for him,” Player said in Naples.“He was my great­est hero.As a young man I would try to im­prove my mind by lis­ten­ing to his tapes. But if you did a sur­vey around the world, I doubt 25 per­cent of the univer­sity stu­dents to­day would know who Win­ston Churchill was. Peo­ple for­get.”

I would urge all golfers to pay at­ten­tion to Gary Player. Even he won’t be here for­ever. And, yes, he might just have the se­cret.

Cer­e­mo­nial starter at the Masters ev­ery April.

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