The Wisdom of Gary Player
The indomitable spirit of Player: His energy, skill, longevity and mental acuity, even as he turns 83, is evidence of his resolve.
THE BEST PUTTER ALWAYS WINS. GOLF SHOULD BE RENAMED “MIND AND PUTTING.”
OARY PLAYER HAS WON 167 professional tournaments in 15 countries, including nine major championships on the regular tour and six on the Champions tour. He’s one of five players to capture the career Grand Slam. He has designed 400 courses worldwide. Through the Player Foundation, he has raised more than $50 million for charity. One of the extraordinary people in golf history has given Golf Digest memorable advice over the years. Here we present some of his best.
I played with so many golfers who were way better than me, but I won majors and they didn’t. The swing is not the thing. The mind gets you out of a bind.
Try to get winded 10 minutes a day. Whether it’s climbing stairs in your house, riding an exercise bike or jumping rope, the key is to get at least slightly out of breath for 10 minutes. It’s practically impossible to be badly out of shape if you do this each and every day.
I can beat most 30-year- olds in the gym at my age. I don’t see myself as old. I look at myself as young. The more you exercise, the better you feel, and the more you can do for this country.
Be smart about lifting weights. When other players first saw my weight-training program back in the 1950s, they thought I was crazy. Frank Stranahan, a terrific amateur player, and I were the only ones doing it. In fact, lifting weights has made me a better golfer. Two suggestions: First, bench presses are very popular, but I still prefer old-fashioned push-ups to strengthen the chest. Second, do your weight training in the evening, and follow it with a shower— cold water, then hot. This will help your body recover faster, so you aren’t as stiff the next day.
Develop both sides of your body. The perfect golfer would look like Popeye: thin waist, powerful legs, huge forearms, with the left and right sides equally strong. When you perform any repetitive motion like the golf swing, it’s important to strengthen the corresponding muscle groups. Swinging a weighted club is a great exercise, but if you’re right-handed, make the same number of swings lefthanded. This will keep your back and hips in balance and prevent injury.
Focus on your hands and wrists. Henry Cotton once told me your hands, fingers and wrists can never be too strong. Hitting practice balls will work out your hands, but you want to do special exercises, too. Suspending free weights using your thumb and each finger individually helps.
The best way to break out of a slump is to pretend you’re a player whose swing is rhythmic and beautiful. I fell into a terrible slump in 1973, and I recovered just that way. I watched Christy O’Connor at the British Open and stamped his sing-song swing on my mind. For the next few months, I actually pretended I was him. The following April, I won the Masters, then took the British Open in July.
The secret to chipping is to stand a little wide, shift your weight slightly forward, set the club and “light the match.” By that I mean you want to accelerate a little at impact the way you’d light a match.
Good vision is underrated. Your eyes influence everything in golf. I wish my eyes were in as good of shape as the rest of my body; it’s my only sign of aging. In my business, three yards might as well be a mile.
You can tell a good bunker shot by the sound. From powdery sand, you want a “poof.” From coarser sand, it should sound like you’re tearing a linen sheet in half. Strive to make the right sound, and you’ll be surprised at how fast you improve.
Get energy from younger people. I try to play golf with younger people, the fitter the better. I think you tend to take on the characteristics of the individuals you spend the most time with. Doing activities with young, healthy people has had a way of making me rise to their level. The best traits of young people—their optimism, curiosity, alertness and energy—are contagious.
Golf is the game for a lifetime, but that lifetime will be shorter if you’re overweight.
Eat super foods. The biggest technological advance in golf in the next 50 years won’t be equipment or exercise. It’ll be nutrition. Pro athletes will have “super diets” and will avoid starches, sugar and most of the commercial foods available today, which are loaded with all kinds of steroids and pesticides. Common examples of super foods are raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole-grain breads, avocado and yogurt.
The worst single food in the world is bacon, because it’s pure animal fat. But I have a piece on occasion. I’m not a martyr.
Work on your core. Strengthen your core muscles, your stomach especially. I’ve always felt that my core essentially holds my body together and prevents back injuries. I still do sit-ups. I can do hundreds in a day as long as I break them up into two or three sessions.
A golfer chokes because he fears being exposed for something less than he really is.
Why did Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player in history, change his swing every other week? We’re always chopping and changing. Golf is a puzzle without an answer.
PLAYER WITH CADDIE ALFRED ( RABBIT) DYER AT ROYAL LYTHAM & ST ANNES IN 1974.