Exactly one month before Gary Player reached another milestone in his life, he posted this quote on his Twitter account. This just reiterates what many know already; the Black Knight has no intention of sitting back and letting life pass him by. He is as active now as he was when he was at the peak of his career. His dedication to his daily exercise routine and dietary schedule proves that Mr. Player is a true living legend. Some would even say he is a real life Benjamin Button.
There will be endless amounts of articles written about the legendary status of Mr. Player in celebration of his birthday, but no matter how many words are produced by whatever number of authors, (along with this article), they will still fall short of truly emphasizing his legacy both now and throughout his life. Just look at his achievements on the course throughout his career:
- Sunshine Tour: 73 wins, All-time record holder
- PGA Tour: 24 wins (including majors)
- Majors: 9 (regular), 9 (senior) wins
- Champions Tour: 19 wins
- PGA Tour of Australasia: 18 wins
- Others across the world: 27 wins
- European Senior Tour (and others, including majors): 12 wins
- Total: 167 professional wins
How do you put all of these successes into words? You don’t, you can’t, it’s impossible. The easier option is to just interview Mr. Player and ask him to reflect on his life both on and off the course, as well as his future plans to continue being a part of the game he loves and influenced millions of others to follow suit:
Q. Firstly, congrats on another milestone in your life. Any special plans to celebrate the momentous day?
Player: I am celebrating with family and close friends in South Africa ahead of the Gary Player Invitational charity tournament in Sun City.
Q. What kind of gifts have you received? You have everything you need right?
Player: I have always enjoyed giving much more than receiving. At this point in my life, I really have everything I could want. The only thing I need is help in raising money for underprivileged children through The Player Foundation. My ultimate goal is to donate $100 million.
Q. If people were willing to make a charitable donation on your behalf for your birthday, where can they do this?
Player: That would be fantastic! Please visit The Player Foundation via our website garyplayer.com
Q. The Sunshine Tour is honoured that you still are and most likely will always be our biggest success story. 73 professional wins on our Tour is nothing short of remarkable. Is there any one in particular that stands out for you?
Player: My second professional victory and first win on the Sunshine Tour came at the East Rand Open in 1955. It was my first win in my home country, so that made it extra special. I always made sure to play tournaments in South Africa, to help grow the game where I first began to play as a teenager. I believe this helped to make South Africa one of the best golf countries in the world. We are second (only behind the United States) in total Major victories. That’s an outstanding achievement for such a small country.
Q. You must be very proud of the state of South African golf at the moment?
Player: Very much so. We have some very talented players on Tour right now with Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace having a fantastic 2015 season. They all played exceptionally well in The Presidents Cup. I expect to see more Major wins from this trio in the near future.
Q. And golf in general? Looks like we may have a new ‘Big Three’ in the making?
Player: Maybe even a Big Four. There is so much talent on the PGA Tour, and the young guys have been playing so well. This generation certainly has a chance to make their mark on history. Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler can win any match they enter. Each had a fantastic season, but the key for them going forward is consistency. Will they still be at the top five years from now? Ten years from now? How many of them can win the Grand Slam? A talented group, no doubt, and we all expect them to be successful.
Q. Which one of them do you think has the potential to be the most successful?
Player: I have always said the best putter is the one who will win the most Majors. Right now, that is Jordan Spieth. However, Rory might be the first to win the career Grand Slam with only The Masters left to claim.
Q. Out of your nine Major titles, which one was the most memorable?
Player: That’s tough because each one was so special. My first Open Championship victory in 1959, because it was my first one and confirmed I had the skill, mind and drive to be a World Champion; the 1965 U.S. Open when I captured the career Grand Slam because it was the culmination of all my hard work; And the 1978 Masters was particularly special because I won it at age 42, coming from seven shots down heading into the final round.
Q. Which player did you enjoy the most playing against?
Player: Jack Nicklaus was a fierce competitor, but a true gentleman to play with or against. He never beat himself, and would wait for his opponent to make a mistake and then capitalize. I will always admire how he played the game. And of course Ben Hogan.
Q. If you could be standing on any tee box now worldwide, where would you like to be?
Player: On the 1st tee of my own 9-hole course at my horse farm in Colesberg, Karoo.
Q. What motivates you to maintain such an active and healthy lifestyle?
Player: It has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. There is always more to do and more to achieve in life. My first motivation came from my brother. He left for war at age 17, and told me that if I wanted to be a professional athlete I needed to look after my body and treat it like a holy temple. He left me a few weights to train with and exercises to work on. Now, as I am turning 80, I am so thankful for his advice. It’s the main reason I feel closer to 40!
Q. Do you ever break loose and have a day in front of the TV watching sports and ordering in fast food?
Player: Rest is rust! I still travel throughout the year, so I need to make sure I stay in the best possible physical condition. When I am on my thoroughbred racehorse stud farm in the Great Karoo of South Africa, I never sleep in. I like to get up early to work and get my hands dirty. But of course I enjoy watching a little sport on TV…
Q. Do you think South Africa has the potential to host a Major in future years?
Player: Absolutely. It is my hope the PGA Championship recognizes that golf is becoming more of a global game every day. Right now, we have three Majors that take place in the United States. Why not have countries put in bids to host the PGA Championship, much like is done for the Olympics? I believe this will spark greater growth of golf on an international scale.
Q. Do you feel enough is being done to develop the game in your home country?
Player: We can always do more. I am proud of the players the Gary Player School of Champions has produced. It is my hope we find the next Tiger Woods in South Africa through one of our programs.
Q. Any big plans for 2016? Course designs will continue to expand?
Player: As a company we are nearing 400 courses worldwide, with 33 projects in the works across the globe that I am very happy to be a part of. In the US, at The Greenbrier, I am designing a championship course with my friends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. Gary Player Design is also designing a family-style course for Johnny Morris’s Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark Mountains. Outside of the US we have several projects in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East that will be complete in the near future.
Q. How grateful are you to have such wonderful people around you throughout your life?
Player: It has been the greatest blessing of my life. I have been married to the love of my life for 58 years and we have six children and 22 grandchildren. That’s hard to beat!
Q. 6 children and 22 grandchildren..? Santa Claus must be quite busy in the Player household..?
Player: Ha! We went to Greece this year for a family vacation, all 40 of us… and they all ate like it was the last supper!
Q. You recently announced that you will captain the South African Team in Rio 2016. What an amazing experience that will be? What made you reach this decision?
Player: I was honoured to be nominated and selected as a captain for the Rio games. As we know, it will be golf’s first time as an Olympic sport in more than 100 years. I believe this will support golf’s growth tremendously as a global game.
Q. Finally, how would you like to be remembered in years to come?
Player: There may come a time when Major championships are forgotten. My goal is to be remembered as a person that did everything in their power to help their fellow man. Because when you impact the lives of people, that is never forgotten. Love is the most important word we have.
Happy birthday Mr. Player and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.
Interview: Kenneth Quillinan