Three-time Champion Golfer of the Year, Gary Player, talks with Compleat Golfer on The Open Championship’s return to Royal Portrush
What is the appeal for you of Royal Portrush?
I first must compliment Northern Ireland. It’s a beautiful part of the world with tremendous history, and the people are simply fantastic. The R&A’s decision to stage The Open here is welcomed by the players and certainly golf fans locally, and ones who will travel to witness this great championship. After 68 years without hosting The Open, all I can say is that it’s about time. Everyone is very excited.
What from a links and design perspective makes it, as you described, one of the best links courses in the world?
The Gary Player Design company has more than 400 courses in our global portfolio, so naturally when I came back to Royal Portrush just now, it was a pleasure to see the course improvements and its immaculate condition. Seaside views, deep links pot bunkers, blind shots to holes, humongous dunes, bouncy turf, and gently undulating greens – it checks all the boxes. Easy to tell why it’s considered one of the best golf courses in the world.
The fact that it was your final Major victory perhaps made it an even more special experience for you?
Absolutely, Royal Portrush holds a special place in my heart indeed. I was nearly 62 when I won my last Senior Major – a tribute to my diet and fitness level at that age. John Bland, a fellow South African, and I battled until a sudden death playoff.
Do you perhaps have a particular anecdote or memory of Royal Portrush that stands out for you?
The moment the winning putt fell on the second playoff hole. It had been seven years since my last Major. Of course, I wanted to win another to top my Regular Major count. But my goal when I first started on the Senior Tour was to get to at least nine. I was as excited and proud as when I won my first Open Championship at the age of 23.
If you had to suggest to a professional golfer to do one thing while at Royal Portrush for the first time that would embody the experience of that links for him, what would it be?
It’s all about patience. That’s key in links golf. Play the course and the elements. Use your strengths. You might get a bad draw with the unpredictable Irish coast weather. Tough! You have to survive and the odds could change the next day. Know that you are never, ever out of contention at The Open. And never give up.
I like Rory to win and be this year’s Champion Golfer of the Year. It’s in his backyard so he already has an advantage. But Rickie Fowler is due to win a Major and he has won playing a links course before at the Scottish Open.