A PLAYER FOR THE AGES

As one of golf’s big­gest char­ac­ters for the past 60-plus years, Gary Player has long de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for straight-talk­ing to back up his myr­iad suc­cesses on the green. Here, he talks ex­clu­sively about his record seven Aus­tralian Open wins, why he t

Golf Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS PETER WAL­LACE

Gary Player talks ex­clu­sively about his record seven Aus­tralian Open wins, why he thinks the younger gen­er­a­tions of sports­men are be­ing failed, and his legacy as he nears his 83rd birth­day.

There’s a cer­tain aura to all sport­ing greats when it comes to run­ning the rule over their fel­low com­peti­tors. When it comes to 83-year-old for­mer Grand Slam-win­ner Gary Player, how­ever, things feel a bit dier­ent.

It’s not just be­cause he’s more than happy to cut to the chase in his elu­ci­da­tions on ev­ery­thing from global health epi­demics, to travel, and Tiger Woods – it’s more than that, with 63 years of ex­pe­ri­ence on his side, there are few bet­ter placed in the world of sport to do so. When Player talks, the world of golf lis­tens. More of­ten than not, it can make for a sur­pris­ing, chal­leng­ing, and un­con­ven­tional con­ver­sa­tion. Famed still for his ded­i­ca­tion to fit­ness (in­clud­ing more than 1,300 push-ups and sit-ups a day), Player is whip-smart in spite of his ad­vanc­ing years.

The only non-Amer­i­can to ever com­plete a Grand Slam, a feat which puts him in the es­teemed com­pany of men like Ben Ho­gan, Jack Nick­laus, and Woods, the Jo­han­nes­burg-na­tive cap­ti­vated golf’s global au­di­ence with his skill. And un­like in to­day’s game, Player’s ap­pear­ances in some places re­quired days of toil be­fore he had even set foot on the course.

“I have trav­elled more miles than any other hu­man be­ing that has ever lived now,” he nods proudly. “Sixty-five years of con­stant travel; most places back then were very di“cult to get to. I used to travel to Amer­ica and Aus­tralia from South Africa and it would take 40 hours, stop­ping four times and trav­el­ling with six chil­dren, with mas­sive time changes which were detri­men­tal to one’s health.”

Nev­er­the­less, Player man­aged that cross­ing many times, and still had enough left in the tank to pro­vide Aus­tralian golf with some of its finest mo­ments. Seven Aus­tralian Open wins from 1958 to 1974 and there were other vic­to­ries here too. The 1957 Aus­tralian PGA Cham­pi­onship, 1959 Vic­to­rian Open and a host of smaller wins, like the North Coast Open in Coœs Har­bour, at­test to that.

“I was for­tu­nate enough to win the Aus­tralian Open seven times, which is a record, and I still hold the low­est record score which I man­aged in 1965,” he says. “I think that’s about the only record still last­ing from then. I loved Aus­tralia – I’ve been there 31 times, I ab­so­lutely love the coun­try and miss it very much.”

Oc­to­ge­nar­ian though he may be, it’s a tes­ta­ment to Player’s in­de­fati­ga­ble char­ac­ter that to hear him ac­knowl­edge his days of trav­el­ling to these shores are over is al­most jar­ring. There’s no ques­tions what­so­ever that this is the norm, how­ever. He scorns any talk of hang­ing up his clubs – “re­tire­ment is a death war­rant” – and that “fierce” ex­er­cise that got him through 40-hours of trav­el­ling on his way to seven Open wins here re­mains ev­i­dent.

“I have 22 grand­chil­dren and six chil­dren, and I have a zest for life, and I have tremen­dous ap­pre­ci­a­tion and grat­i­tude that I’m healthy,” he ex­plains. “The most im­por­tant thing in your life is your health, and most peo­ple don’t worry about health and pay enough at­ten­tion to it.

“It gives me such a thrill that at 80, I can go out and shoot an av­er­age of 70 on a nor­mal golf course, and I can push 400 pounds in my legs and I can beat most 30-year-olds in the gym. It just gives me great sense of sat­is­fac­tion when I work hard, and that keeps in­spir­ing me to main­tain that level of train­ing and to be able to con­tinue to

ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing in life.”

Un­for­tu­nately for the cur­rent young gen­er­a­tion of would-be Play­ers and Nick­laus’, there is a huge stum­bling block stand­ing be­tween their fu­ture selves and the kind of suc­cess that he en­joyed in his decades-long ca­reer.

“I know the cell phone has its place, but I think it is ru­in­ing the health of young peo­ple,” Player es­pouses.

“I think the schools are de­plorable! The way they are tak­ing ex­er­cise out of school. The most im­por­tant thing in your life is your health. It should be im­per­a­tive that ev­ery day the first sub­ject of the day is how to eat prop­erly, how to ex­er­cise, how to sleep prop­erly, how to be happy. I think we’re mak­ing some big mis­takes as far as health is con­cerned.” That be­ing said, it’s not all doom and gloom. Player’s ap­praisal of some of the top stars in the sport to­day – Jor­dan Spi­eth, Rory McIl­roy and our own Ja­son Day – makes for far bet­ter view­ing.

“Golf is in great hands with these young men,” he says. “They all dress nicely, speak nicely, and be­have well.” There’s even an ex­tra mod­icum of praise lev­elled at Queens­land’s Day, the proud owner of, in Player’s view, “one of the best three swings on the tour.”

Of course, some­times Player can be con­tro­ver­sial in his as­sess­ments, but golf will be a lesser place with­out him. He re­mains amongst the last of his gen­er­a­tion – a com­peti­tor with fond mem­o­ries of his con­tem­po­raries, in­clud­ing fel­low Aus­tralian Open and Open Cham­pi­onship win­ner, Peter Thom­son, who passed away in June this year.

“He was a highly in­tel­li­gent man,” he rem­i­nisces. “Next to Bobby Jones he was the most well-read, well-in­formed golfer who I ad­mired very much in­deed.

“He won five Open Cham­pi­onships, he wasn’t what I would say a su­per­star, but I’d put him right up there as a star. He was one of the straight­est hit­ters I ever saw and one of the best play­ers on a links golf course that has ever lived – and he will be sorely missed!

“But ev­ery­thing shall pass. Don’t think about leav­ing lega­cies, do things at the time that are im­por­tant. Con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety be­cause we have a lim­ited time here. I don’t want my name on a rock in a grave­yard, I want my legacy to be in the hearts of peo­ple.”

The glory days of his three-way du­als with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nick­laus gave the sport some of its most en­dear­ing mo­ments, with

I DON’T WANT MY NAME ON A ROCK IN A GRAVE­YARD, I WANT MY LEGACY TO BE IN THE HEARTS OF PEO­PLE. – GARY PLAYER

DON’T FOR­GET I’M THE ONLY PLAYER THAT EVER WON THE GRAND SLAM ON THE REG­U­LAR TOUR AND THE SE­NIOR TOUR!

Player re­spon­si­ble for his own fair share, from his 1968 Open Cham­pi­onship- win­ning ea­gle at the Spec­ta­cles Hole at Carnoustie to his “un­real 63”, as de­scribed by play­ing part­ner Tom Kite, at Lake Kar­rinyup to claim the Aussie Open’s Stone­haven Cup six years later.

But for the ever-prac­ti­cal Player, the shots you don’t make can be just as im­por­tant as the shots you do, even when you con­sider his ex­cit­ing ex­ploits at Kar­rinyup.

“I was sec­ond in seven ma­jors – seven!” he barks. “The Aus­tralian Open wins were very im­por­tant to me, and that shot at Carnoustie I re­mem­ber well. But some­times the luck goes the other way.

“I re­mem­ber at Au­gusta with Arnold Palmer, he had a putt of at least 68 feet on 16, and the putt had a 15-foot break, and no­body ever two- putts from there. Arnold hit it a hun­dred miles an hour and then it hit the flag and went in. Then at 17, he holed some­thing like a 28-foot putt.

“Then we went into a play­off, and I was three shots ahead with nine holes t o go and he came back in 31, which was phe­nom­e­nal golf. But any time you hole a putt like that at 16, when nor­mally you can try a hun­dred putts and never even two-putt from that dis­tance, that in­volves a lot of luck.

“But on the other hand, I’ve also won tour­na­ments where I had luck. That’s the great game of golf. You never look back and say what could have hap­pened. Don’t for­get I’m the only player that ever won the Grand Slam on the reg­u­lar tour and the Se­nior Tour! So, how can I ever com­plain about any­thing in golf ?”

54

Player and Jack Nick­laus com­bined for 27 ma­jor vic­to­ries.

Player holds the Stone­haven Cup aloft in 1963 at Royal Mel­bourne Golf Club. ‘The Black Night’ is a fix­ture in the par-3 con­test at The Mas­ters ev­ery year. Player en­joys a joke along­side ten­nis leg­end Rod Laver at the 2018 Se­nior Open Pro-am.

Player won three green jack­ets at Au­gusta Na­tional and came sec­ond twice. Player signs his card for his sec­ond 62 at Kooy­onga in the 1965 Open. Aussie Open win No.6 came in 1970 at Kingston Heath.

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