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
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 dierent.
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 dicult 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 Cos 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 ?”
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.