Gary Player travels the world as an ambassador for the sport, but for the Nedbank Golf Challenge he plays host in his native country.
He did not win as many majors as Jack Nicklaus or win over the masses like Arnold Palmer, but he still has had a lasting impact on the game.
Player, 84, of South Africa, won the first of his nine major titles, the 1959 British Open, at the age of 23, and the last, the 1978 Masters Tournament, at 42. He came back from seven shots down on the final day. He also won nine majors as a senior.
He has been one of golf’s most revered ambassadors, circling the globe for decades. For the Nedbank Golf Challenge, he gets to play host in his home country at the Gary Player Country Club.
He reflected recently on his remarkable career. The following conversation has been edited and condensed.
How many miles are you up to now?
It’s got to be close to 15 million. When you think about it, it’s 70 years of travel.
Do you ever get tired of it?
I like traveling, and I get so much love from people everywhere. China, India, Africa, America. It doesn’t matter where I go.
Are you still working out every day?
I work out four times a week like a Trojan. I do hundreds and hundreds of situps. I still push 300 pounds with my legs and do a lot of other core exercises. I do push-ups and a lot of squats and a lot of treadmill.
Look at the golfers who are doing stuff like this now. It’s so much different from your time. Has it made them greater?
It has enabled them to have less injuries. That’s the big thing. When I first started [working out], there were only two of us, Frank Stranahan, and myself, and we were ridiculed.
Is there any major that got away from you?
I was two shots ahead of Arnold Palmer in 1962, and I was going to be the first man to win the Masters twice in a row. We came to 16, and I hit first, 12 feet from the hole. He hit a terrible shot and was on the fringe between the bunker and the green. Nobody has ever two-putted from there. It came around there like a bullet, hit the flag and went right in the hole. The next hole, he hooked his ball into Eisenhower Tree, punched a low five-iron onto the green and [holed the birdie putt].
Who is the best ever: Jack or Tiger?
I’ve got to say Jack because Tiger hits so many wild drives. But if Tiger never had the misfortunes that happened to him, he would have gone on and won at least 20 majors. One of the things that hurt Tiger was having the lessons when he had the most perfect swing. What was he looking for?
Guys hit it a mile, missing fairways, but don’t care because the penalty isn’t as great. Do you think anything should be done?
I went on television about 20 years ago, and I said to the commentator that we’re going to have players hit the ball in the future 400 yards, which we’ve seen numerous times.
Now, I’m going to tell you something. They are going to stand on the first hole at Augusta, which is 445 yards long, and they are going to drive the ball right on the green. As sure as I’m sitting here, they will have to do something when they start hitting wedges to all the par 5s. At St. Andrews, for example, on a calm day some of these guys can drive eight of the par 4s. They will cut that ball back 50 yards. There’s not even a doubt. And they’re going to have to watch what’s being done with clubs. Here I am, 84, hitting the ball 250 yards.
At your best, how far would you hit it?
Probably 260. It’s hard to believe the difference. It’s not the same game.
When Rory McIlroy is on his game, is he the best?
I think Rory McIlroy has the best swing, the least errors in his swing. I’d like to see him be a little more consistent.
Who is going to win the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia?
Playing away from America is a big help, but [the American team] is hard to beat.
I captained three times, and I thought our team was as good as America. Let’s hope the International Team can change things around for the good of the game of golf.
Article courtesy of The New York Times