If you ask golf icon Gary Player about his victory at the 1965 U.S. Open Championship at Bellerive Country Club, it would be a clear and vivid memory that makes it hardly seem like 50 years ago. While it might seem just like yesterday, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Black Knight’s U.S. Open feat that catapulted him to his monumental Grand Slam title.
Player, who went on to become the most decorated and successful international golfer, became just the third individual to clinch golf’s most coveted title. Since Player achieved the Grand Slam, the only other golfers to join him, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen have been Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods proving the sheer difficulty of winning each of golf’s Major Championships.
“The Grand Slam is certainly one of my greatest achievements because it showed that all my hard work had paid off,” said Gary Player. “With that 1965 victory, I became the first non-American to win the U.S. Open in 45 years and became only the third – and youngest, at 29 – to win the Grand Slam. That was an enormous achievement.”
By 1965, South African Player already had achieved unparalleled success for an international golfer as he became the youngest Open Championship victor at age 23 and the first international winner of The Masters.
When Player arrived at the 1965 U.S. Open at Bellerive Country Club with three Major titles to his name, he was convinced that he could, in fact, win the tournament and thus the Grand Slam. That belief proved fruitful as it was Player who was lifted the U.S. Open trophy after a Monday playoff round against Australian Kel Nagle.
While the Black Knight celebrates his monumental feat in 2015, there will be a great deal of excitement as Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson vie for the chance to join the list of Grand Slam winners at The Masters and U.S. Open, respectively.
Nine-time major champion Player is the only international golfer to have his name etched on each of The Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship trophies still to this day. Should Irishman McIlroy prevail in Augusta, he will join Player as the only other international champion.
The South African golfing legend is the only individual in the sport to claim the Grand Slam on the Senior Tour as well.
Winning the Grand Slam is seen as the ultimate feat in golf, but with that, Gary Player has always felt that using his success to give back to those less fortunate has been integral. The Black Knight made history at the ’65 U.S. Open and broke tradition as the first international Grand Slam champion donated all his tournament earnings to charity.
Player had previously promised Joe Dey, Director of the USGA, that when he won the U.S. Open, he would donate his winnings to charity. After being handing the winner’s check following the 18-hole playoff with Kel Nagle, he upheld his promise and handed the winning check back to Dey specifying that the proceeds should go to two important causes: cancer research, in honor of Player’s mother who died of cancer, and the development of junior golf programs by the USGA.
“I was extremely thrilled to be able to give back at that moment especially since it was such an enormous milestone in my career,” said Player.
Player continues to carry out that vision by raising much needed funds for underprivileged children through The Player Foundation. Since its establishment in 1983 by Marc Player, The Player Foundation has raised nearly $60 million worldwide to create a brighter future for those in need.
2015 will hold many reasons for celebration. In addition the 50th anniversary of the Grand Slam, Player will celebrate his 80th birthday on November 1. For a man whose life soundtrack seems to be “Forever Young,” it is hard to believe the Black Knight still travels the world as enthusiastically as 50 years ago.
“Rest is rust,” said Player. “Age is a mentality. I am thrilled to celebrate my 80th birthday in November, but in my mind I am still in my 40s.”
While life does not seem to slow down for Player, that is a good thing as he will have a busy year in 2015 as he travels to each of the Major Championships to commemorate the Grand Slam, but is also busy with an ever-expanding golf course portfolio and flourishing corporate relationships.