As one of golf’s “Big Three,” Gary Player set the standard for worldwide tournament play, winning more than 100 titles including nine major championships. Luck is the residue of hard work, Player is prone to say, and he is quick to credit his father, who worked as a captain in a gold mine 12,000 feet underground, teaching by example that with hard work he could do anything.
“I was with him one time when he finished work,” said Player, host of the Nedbank Golf Challenge that starts on Thursday. “He took off his shoes and poured water out. I asked him why he was walking around in water. He said he wasn’t. That was his sweat.”
His father’s words imbued in him a core philosophy that would guide him throughout his life. Player, 82, continues to circle the globe with seemingly unlimited drive.
“I’m as busy as I’ve ever been,” Player said. “Traveling around the world designing golf courses, playing some tournaments, ranching, studying genetics, learning about eating. I’m so inquisitive about so many things. I still want to learn. So many people seem to lose their desire to improve and grow as they get older, but I can’t say that has happened to me.”
You were an early adopter to the importance of fitness in golf success. What do you say to the critics who feel that lifting weights has been detrimental to Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, among others?
Nonsense. Tiger played his best when he was training hardest in the gym. And Rory’s strength is an asset to his game because he is competing against much bigger and naturally stronger players. It’s not just strength training though, but flexibility and core stability too. Nearly all the top professionals today are working out. There is a reason the PGA Tour has a traveling gymnasium. Physical fitness gives players an advantage — it’s that simple. If you don’t work out, you may linger but you will not last.
Rory McIlroy (Masters), Phil Mickelson (U.S. Open) and Jordan Spieth (P.G.A. Championship) all need one more leg to complete the career Grand Slam. As one of the five golfers who have previously won all four majors, who do you think will achieve it next?
The next major on the calendar is The Masters so Rory has the next chance. Augusta suits Rory’s game. I think it could be him. I hope Jordan achieves this too as it really is the Holy Grail of golf.
How did you become such a great bunker player and what is your secret?
You have to be strategic and you have to know the sand. But really, the harder you practice, the luckier you get. No more is this true than with bunker play. My mentality was, why not make a part of the game others find difficult to be one of my strengths? Mentally, it gave me a significant advantage. I thrived in the sand. But it was because I spent many, many long hours perfecting this part of my game. Nobody could beat me. I don’t care who it was. Take Tiger Woods at his best, he could never beat me out of a bunker. Never. Nobody could.
You made as many clutch putts as anyone. How did you acquire the putter you used?
It’s a funny story. Arnold Palmer and I were playing in Japan on a new course and the greens were bumpy and I thought I needed some loft. So we go into a store in Tokyo and there’s a long thin stall with a drum of putters. I picked out this putter and I liked it for these greens. It had a $5 tag on it. I put it back. We weren’t in a hurry. We looked some more. At the end, I went back for the putter I liked. Now it has a six in front of the five. The salesman saw me. Smart man. I wish he worked for me. Best $65 I ever spent. I won over 100 tournaments worldwide and the Grand Slam with my Black Knight blade putter.
What do you make of the latest generation of golfers taking spring breaks together and waiting at the green to celebrate each other’s victories?
It’s terrific. Winning is great but sharing a victory is even sweeter. We did the same. The camaraderie I had with Jack, Arnold, Lee and many others on and off the course helped me be a better golfer and a better person. Don’t get me wrong, we wanted to beat the hell out of each other. But when the contest was over, we celebrated together like the guys are doing today. You have to love it.
Article courtesy of The New York Times.