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 »  Home  »  Magazine Departments  »  Player Profiles  »  An Interview with Gary Player
An Interview with Gary Player
By Matt Adams | Published  06/9/2008 | Player Profiles | Unrated
Fairways of Life
Untitled Document                        
Fairways of Life with Matt Adams

A Conversation with Gary Player
        Gary Player has been a man in constant motion. And, perhaps one of the most under-appreciated great golfers of all time.

     


      The 72-year-old South African is tied for fourth with Ben Hogan on the list for the most majors won all time, at nine. Heís won 163 golf tournaments around the world, including 24 PGA Tour victories. Player won the Masters in 1961, 1974 and 1978, the U.S. Open in 1965, the British Open in 1959, 1968 and 1974, and the PGA Championship 1962 and 1972. Heís also won an incredible 13 South African Opens, the Australian Open seven times, and the World Match Play Championship five times. Heís captured nine Champions Tour majors. In 1974 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and has been one of the most influential ambassadors of the game worldwide. In addition, he has designed or helped design some 300 golf courses.

     


      Besides this impressive array of accomplishments, Player could just as easily be defined by the character and integrity he has displayed in fighting racial injustice and in providing opportunities for the under privileged.

     


        This year marks the 25 anniversary of the Gary Player Foundation educating under privileged children around the world.

         

MA: You have done so much in your career that it is almost hard to define you.  Mr. Player, how do you define yourself?
      GP: The 72-year-old South African is tied for fourth with Ben Hogan on the list for the most majors won all time, at nine. Heís won 163 golf tournaments around the world, including 24 PGA Tour victories. Player won the Masters in 1961, 1974 and 1978, the U.S. Open in 1965, the British Open in 1959, 1968 and 1974, and the PGA Championship 1962 and 1972. Heís also won an incredible 13 South African Opens, the Australian Open seven times, and the World Match Play Championship five times. Heís captured nine Champions Tour majors. In 1974 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and has been one of the most influential ambassadors of the game worldwide. In addition, he has designed or helped design some 300 golf courses.
      Besides this impressive array of accomplishments, Player could just as easily be defined by the character and integrity he has displayed in fighting racial injustice and in providing opportunities for the under privileged.
      This year marks the 25 anniversary of the Gary Player Foundation educating under privileged children around the world.

     

MA: You have done so much in your career that it is almost hard to define you.  Mr. Player, how do you define yourself?
        GP: Itís very difficult to always talk about yourself. But I had a very tough youth with my mother dying when I was young, and obviously thatís a very big draw back. My father was a poor man working in the gold mines 12,000 feet under ground, my brother was in World War II at the age of 17 to fight along side the Americans and British. Itís been a struggle. All I can say is that Iím very thankful. I never forget to say a prayer of thanks every day of my life. I am grateful for all the gifts that have been loaned to me, particularly my talents as a golfer, and having the opportunity to travel around the world and meeting so many different people. Understanding their cultures and their religions and their ways of thinking has been a great education

     

MA: Please tell me about the Gary Player Foundation.
        GP: Itís raising a lot of money through this wonderful game of golf to help people who have struggled, because I vividly remember how I struggled. And the need for education is so important. When I think of education I think of the United States today and the waste of money that is taking place. I wish that could be curtailed and money put into education, because Americaís education has slipped down the list quite a long ways. When I first came to the United States it was rated in the top three and I donít think itís rated in the top 20 now. We must educate our young people on health, on physical fitness and academics. Itís very, very important.

     

MA: The nice thing that I have found in your lifeís example, Mr. Player, is that you continue to give back. You mentioned that you have been given gifts that have been ďloanedĒ to you. I wonder whatís the expiration date on these loans? Is that part of the motivation that you have to constantly give back, the sense that youíve been loaned these privileges and youíve had these blessings and you want to spread them back around?
        GP: I was loaned this talent and I always put emphasis on loaned because it can be taken away from you at any minute. Weíve seen many superstar golfers, like Seve Ballesteros, Ian Baker Finch, a host of fellas, who were champions and all of a sudden they couldnít play any more. We cannot take that for granted. Whenever I win I never really think itís me. Itís just something thatís loaned to me and not on a permanent basis, which I am eternally grateful, thankful and appreciative of.
       
        MA: You have remained remarkably fit and still can still shoot low scores. That obviously is very important to you.
        GP: Itís important to show young people around the world that if you look after your body, exercise and try to eat right you can play and be productive for a long time. We need to get schools in the United States not to take away physical training and to teach kids how to eat properly, because obesity is the greatest threat to mankind on this planet today. In the United States today there must be approximately plus or minus three and a half people that die a day from obesity-related diseases. And if you look at the youth of America, 24 percent are obese. There is obesity around the world, not just here. My great dream is to design great golf courses that are playable and enjoyable for people around the world. But at the same time it is to get the message through to millions of young people--donít smoke, donít drink, donít take drugs, donít take performance enhancing drugs for sports, which is prevalent now, get an education and look after yourself.

     

MA: Mr. Player, weíve talked about the need for nutrition and better exercise. We talked about the fact that youíre 72 years old. Itís been well known that your physical fitness and the aptitude you have towards your nutritional intake have helped in you performance. How old do you feel?
        GP: First of all I watch my diet. Iím a 70 percent vegetarian, which is about the best I can do. I try to stay away from foods with high animal fat. I feel I would say I feel around 48 to 50 years of age. The tests that I have had--blood pressure 110 over 70, heart rate at risk 52, sugar count below 100--are all very, very encouraging. I donít drink or smoke because I exercise profusely, and thatís the reason I have so much energy. Remember, Iím traveling more or have traveled more than any human being that has ever lived. Iíve been traveling for 55 years. I continue designing golf courses around the world and you have to be in shape. I have 20 grandchildren and I want to be able to do things with them. I still want to contribute to society to the best of my ability and I believe age is merely a number. Weíve got to come out with very, very strict laws and rules about drugs because weíre riddled in our countries with this particular problem.

     

MA: I know youíve spoken about drug testing for professional tours in golf. Explain to us relative to golf and drug testing why youíve taken such a strong stance?
        GP: I was watching a show last night on television and it was showing you all the weight lifters and the previous heavy weight lifters of the world, the champions of the world, and they were just saying that all these fellas are taking steroids and how theyíre dying in their 30ís and 40ís and 50ís with cancer of the liver, the kidneys and the heart attacks. Then you look at whatís happening in the Tour de France. I mean itís a very, very sad thing when you see whatís happening, young men keeling over and dying trying to win the Tour de France. If you look at all these athletes in Canada and America, the people that won gold medals coming out saying they took drugs. Winning great events around the world and then having to say you took drugs. Itís prevalent in sports now, prevalent, itís in high schools, itís in colleges and baseball. I mean itís been astonishing to me see and read how many people are taking these performance enhancing drugs. Golf is probably the best but I have a professor who told me he was putting people on something years ago. He wouldnít mention all the things. Itís a very, very unhealthy situation. How would you like to lose the U.S. Open to somebody and he was taking something and he beat you by one shot? He never really won it. The man who finished second won it and I find this very, very sad.

     

MA: Well, I can only hope that the sentries at the gate for that type of development down the road have as much enthusiasm as you have sir, because itís obvious that youíve put a great deal of thought into the problem and have strong opinions on it and that is to your credit.
        GP: You see that thereís so much money in all these sports today that the temptation to be able to compete is there. But you can not beat going to the gym. You eat properly and go to the gym and youíll have longevity. You certainly wonít have longevity taking all these other things, I can tell you that.

     

MA: You know that longevity contributed to your career and the phenomenal success that youíve had on the golf course. You are fourth on the all-time list of majors won, and tied with Ben Hogan in that regard. Do you think as you sit here today, that Gary Player gets the credit he deserves for the phenomenal career that he has had?
        GP: It depends on which country youíre talking about. If you go to Britain, yes, if you go to South Africa, yes, if you go to Australia probably yes. In America, I donít know. But Americaís a big world and we must understand this and appreciate it. Iíve been coming here for over 50 years and I appreciate it and theyíre very nationalistic, which is understandable. This is the greatest country in the world and obviously theyíre going to pull for their heroes. Thereís nobody that understands that more than I do and it doesnít perturb me. Iím very grateful that Iím the only man on the planet who has won nine majors on the regular and nine majors on the Champions Tour and all these tournaments around the world. So, Iím very happy with myself. When you look at the record book when itís all said and done, that will tell the story.

     

MA: Last question. Whatís the next mountain for you? Where are you going?
        GP: Several things. Iím very enthusiastic and enthusiasm is one of the great essences of life. I want to build and design great golf courses and give people the pleasure of playing these golf courses around the world. Secondly, I want to be able to influence, as I say, at least two hundred million people on the importance of looking after your body and exercising and education. Thirdly, my ranching in South Africa. I have the most beautiful ranch. I really, really treasure the moments that Iím able to spend there. Iím full of ambition at 72 and I hope to continue to play in the Masters for a couple of years at least. Last year I shot 77 when it was windy and the course was dry. Donít hold me exactly to it, but I think I beat 25 guys that day and tied something like 30, so I actually tied or beat 30 of the best players in the world that day. It goes down as one of the great rounds of my life.

     

MA: Thank you for your time today, Mr. Player.
        GP: Thank you, Matt.  I enjoyed it.  It was a lovely interview

   

Matthew E. ďMattĒ Adams is a New York Times Best-selling author (Chicken Soup for the Soul, Fairways of Life), columnist and reporter for the Golf Channel and host on the PGA Tour Network.