Gary Player rose to international fame representing the nation of South Africa in an athletic sphere that was overwhelmingly dominated by Americans, especially at the Masters Tournament. The Grand-Slam winning golfer famously became the first international champion at the 25th Masters Tournament in 1961. Later, he would go on to win The Masters twice more: in 1974 and 1978.
The 1961 Masters Tournament got off to a rocky start after scores for certain rounds on the first day of the tournament were erased due to heavy rain. In the erased round, Player was leading over defending champion Arnold Palmer. When the rounds were replayed the next day, Player still managed to overcome Palmer. This made him the first international champion of The Masters, beating Palmer by one stroke.
At the 1974 Masters Tournament, Player not only acquired the second of his three Masters titles, but also his seventh Major Championship. He surpassed Tommy Aaron, the defending champion who was two strokes short of the cut that year, and the runners up, David Stockton and Tom Weiskopf.
Player won his final Masters in 1978 at the age of 42, the oldest at that time to ever win The Masters. Going into the last round, Player overcame a seven-shot deficit and managed to tie the 18-hole record of 64 in the final round. His defeat of Tom Watson and Hubert Green brought him his ninth Major Championship. He would go on to win nine more Majors on the Senior Tour.
While champions in golf from all around the world are now the norm, this was certainly not the case during Player’s early professional career. Today’s global representation in the modern world of golf, especially at The Masters, is often attributed to the success of Gary Player who paved the way for international golfers in the years that followed. During Player’s time, professional golf was exploding in America, but the game had yet to reach places like China and India.
His success in the sport made success in golf seem like a more realistic, attainable goal to future players around the world who would rise to the challenge and help the sport grow on a global scale. Player became the first of many internationals to earn and wear the Green Jacket and he continues to be the global ambassador for golf.