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AUSTRALIAN OPEN MEMORIES: WE CHAT WITH GARY PLAYER

Mr Player, your scoring record of 264 still stands from the 1965 Australian Open at Kooyonga, Adelaide, where you beat your nemesis Jack Nicklaus. Can you think of any other records you hold that are over fifty years old?

Becoming the first pro not from the US to win the career Grand Slam on the Regular Tour. Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of my doing so and I still am the only one. But one of my favorite records is my seven Australian Open victories because it was over a nearly 20 year span. It is very hard to win consistently for a long time, and I always made sure I traveled the world to play in different countries promoting our wonderful game.

You are a seven-times Australian Open champion. Jack Nicklaus has 6 and both Greg Norman and Australian Amateur Ivo Whitton have 5. This may be a record that is never beaten… ever. How does that feel?

Records are made to be broken. I hope there is or will be another golfer out there that has the same passion and commitment that I have to travel around to different countries to compete in all sorts of tournaments. To be a world champion you simply have to win all over the world. Hell, I hope the top Australian pros feel strongly enough to play in your National Open and beat my record.

In the last ten years, we have had some formidable golfers winning The Australian Open, including Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Tim Clark, Geoff Ogilvy and Rory McIlroy. Do you tune in to the event each year to see if anyone will beat your scoring record?

I love keeping up with the golf world. Sometimes it is difficult to watch the matches on TV because of my travel schedule and the time change when I am in South Africa. But I’m not concerned about the scoring record. Just look at the equipment and condition of the courses the players are playing on today. Quite frankly, I’m shocked it hasn’t already been broken.

You won many significant events in Australia. Your victory in the Ampol event in 1956 blessed you with £5000 prizemoney, five times what The British Open offered in the same year. Can you describe how vibrant Australian golf was at the time and what you loved about our country?

The most important part of that victory was it gave me enough money to marry my wife Vivienne. You see, golfers did not make much when I first turned professional. I was constantly saving and being very frugal. Marrying Vivienne was the best decision I ever made, and we are going to celebrate our 60th wedding anniversary in 2017! I think that qualifies as being really significant.

How would you say that Norman Von Nida affected your life? 

In 1956 after I won the Dunlop Tournament with a record score in England, Norman invited me to Australia to play some of your biggest events. He made all the arrangements and looked after me so well. What a gesture! This was big step in my future and lead to a great career in Australia and instilled in me the confidence to win overseas. Without Norman, I wouldn’t have made 30 trips to play in Australia.
Norman has done as much for Australian golf as anyone. He was a dear friend. I loved that man.

The Australian Open has been held in Sydney for the last ten years…and no longer rotates to Australia’s best courses. Do you think this is a wise move by the golfing bodies, or should the tournament move around?

To me it’s like The Open Championship verses The Masters. The former is on a rota and the latter is always played in Augusta. I personally like the rotation to different courses. But that’s not for me to decide and both systems can work equally well. 

Kel Nagle left us in 2014, you had many great rounds with one of Australia’s most loved golfers. What would you say were Kel’s virtues, that the youth of today should aspire towards?

Kel and I had some fierce battles on the golf course, no more so than the 1965 U.S. Open when I completed the Grand Slam after beating him in a Monday 18-hole playoff. He was 15 years my senior, but we shared a common goal of wanting to win all over the world. What I admired most about him was his longevity. He was winning tournaments for nearly 30 years, which is incredible. He was gracious in victory and defeat. That’s the lesson young players should take from Kel Nagle, sportsmanship and to compete for as long as you can.

You are only five-foot 6 and weigh 150 pounds, yet you have won the Grand Slam, won tournaments all over the world, designed nearly 400 golf courses, have an incredible business portfolio and a wonderful family. What makes all that possible? 

Hard work, positive attitude, determination and total dedication to accomplishing my goals. It all comes down to a simple phrase that applies to all facets of golf, business and life – The harder you practice, the luckier you get. 

Can you describe how many hours’ practice you would do in the prime of your career? 

My hands have hit more balls over the last 65 years than any man to ever pick up a golf club. I was never satisfied and would practice from sun up to sun down. If I was able to practice 24/7, believe me, I would have. Quite simply, I was an animal in my single-minded approach to becoming a champion.

You are one of the world’s most prolific golf course designers. Why is it that golf course designers try to make golf courses harder and harder, when there are a lot of golfers (probably the majority) who want to try and enjoy their golf?

You are exactly right. Many designers come under pressure from developers because they want their course to be able to host professional tournaments. They have to make long holes with huge undulating greens. Not fun for an amateur or weekend golfer. Nobody wants to spend six hours of their day struggling through an impossible course. Our philosophy at Gary Player Design has always been to build playable courses while taking environmental sensitivity into account. No doubt it’s the way it should be.

You have never designed a golf course in Australia… the only continent missing from your resume as a golf course designer! What would it mean to you to have this final feather in the cap? 

Australia is such a golf rich continent that I would be privileged to leave my mark on from a design perspective. (Laughs) We have been close several times to various projects. Let me know if you know of anyone looking to build something really special.

What do you think of the modern golf swing and how the PGA trained professionals try to teach it? Was there more variety back in your day?

I believe the only man who truly knew the golf swing was Ben Hogan. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago I really found his secret and by then it was too late for me. But we all have different swings that change over time. I never relied on teachers or swing coaches. In my opinion they create too many technical problems for professional players. Yes, amateurs that want to improve their score should have lessons from their local pro to be instructed how to take the club back properly, line up towards the target, etc. There is just as much variety in swings today as there was when I first started playing. Do what works best for you, practice hard and just go out and have fun. Get off the couch, turn off the TV, shut down your phone, and get some exercise.

Which golf swings do you like the most in the modern era, or are you more interested in work ethic and attitude?

Watch Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Adam Scott. They all have fundamentally sound swings, which is why they are so successful. Look at their hips. Look at their hands. Look at their heads. More importantly they are all fine young men with positive attitudes. Because it’s not just about their swing. It’s about your mental approach to the game. Attitude is a critical component to success in any walk of life.

The Gary Player Classic just finished its 45th tournament year. Can you tell us what that means to you?

It is such a thrill for me to hear about the continued success of the Gary Player Classic. I always hoped that coming to play in Australia many years ago would inspire future generations in what is a talent
rich golfing country. Several Major Champions including Greg Norman, Adam Scott, Ian Baker-Finch and Jason Day also call themselves Gary Player Classic Champions, which is very, very special to me and a small way of giving back to a country I admire so much.

Article courtesy of Inside Golf Australia

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