Augusta National has seen some of golf’s most heroic moments. The sport’s greatest players have been able to capture glory on that hallowed ground in North Georgia. Names such as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, and yes, Gary Player. This spring at The Masters will mark the 40th anniversary of one of the tournament’s most memorable moments, when a 42-year-old from South Africa came roaring back on a Sunday afternoon to earn a third and final green jacket.
Entering the 1978 Masters Tournament, Gary Player was not the favorite to take home the title. Considering his age, Player seemed like a long shot. The first three days of play were rather uneventful for player, producing two rounds of 72, and a 69 on Saturday. But his consistency and lack of mistakes kept the Black Knight within striking distance. As a result, player began the tournament’s final round with what seemed like an insurmountable deficit, starting the day seven shots behind leader Hubert Green, with the likes of Tom Watson and Lee Trevino within striking distance. Sitting in 10th place facing this deficit, virtually everyone had counted Player out. That is, everyone except Player himself, and his sons, Marc and Wayne.
Player, the self-proclaimed eternal optimist, still had some fight left, and knew that anything could happen at Augusta on a Sunday. His ball striking had been solid throughout the week, the putts simply were not falling. He told his caddie Eddie McCoy before Sunday’s round that he had played so well all week, if he could just make some puts he had a feeling that they could win. Gary’s son Wayne told him before the round that if he could start making putts, he could shoot 65 and win the tournament. After the round Gary Player would tell his son that, “his judgment was poor, a 65 would have only gotten me into a playoff.”
Player teed off at 1:04 PM alongside the young Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros. After the round, Seve would tell Player, “Thank you, today you teach me to win Masters.” Again, Player began the round rather quietly, posting a solid front nine 34, but remained five shots back with nine holes to play. When Player made the turn his putter caught fire. He would open the back nine with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole, and follow that with a 15-foot bird on the 12th. Player continued to put on a putting clinic, birding six holes on the backside at Augusta, including two of Amen Corner’s three holes, and only putting 13 times. Unbeknownst to many, Player had three putts lip out on the back nine, and could have carded a 27. The most important of those putts came on the par four 18th. Player stood over a slippery downhill 15-foot birdie putt on the closing hole to put him in sole possession of the lead at 11 under par. As the putt fell and the crowd erupted, Gary Player fell into the arms of his caddie.
As Player watched from the clubhouse as his competitors faltered down the stretch, he had officially secured the green jacket. The 42-year-old had completed one of the greatest comebacks in Master’s history, while playing alongside someone half his age. He called his wife, Vivienne, who was home in Johannesburg, waking her up at 3:30am to credit her for convincing him to change his putting stroke. Vivienne’s advice had worked, and Player was once again victorious on his “dream course.” It was Gary Player’s 21st Masters appearance, and according to him, his third and final win was the sweetest.
Article by Black Knight International intern, William Gandy.