By Michael Vlismas Media
The announcement was made at Soweto Country Club on Saturday, where Player’s remarkable career and contribution to South African golf was recognised with a golf day in his honour by the Sunshine Tour and the City of Johannesburg.
The golf day was a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Player winning the career Major Grand Slam and being still the only non-American to have achieved this, and one of only five golfers in history to reach this milestone.
The Soweto community, as well as several of Soweto’s legendary professional golfers, joined in a special birthday tribute in the year of Player’s 80th birthday. Player turns 80 in November. The funds raised by the golf day will be donated to Soweto Country Club.
Player’s Olympic captaincy was made official by the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the governing body for golf in the country and a member of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) and International Golf Federation (IGF). The decision was approved unanimously by all of the relevant golf bodies in South Africa, and ratified by SASCOC.
“We are privileged to call one of the greatest players in the history of the game one of our own, and to have him with us in Soweto today,” said Gerhard Conradie, President of the South African Golf Association (SAGA).
“Gary has been our greatest golfer and one of this country’s greatest ambassadors for decades. His career on the golf course and his philanthropic efforts off it embody everything of the Olympic spirit, and we are proud that he has accepted to lead South Africa’s first Olympic golf team to Rio.”
Selwyn Nathan, the Executive Director of the Sunshine Tour, applauded the decision to appoint Player as captain of the Olympic golf team.
“Our Sunshine Tour professionals have tremendous respect for Gary, and his experience and leadership ability will be invaluable to the South African players who qualify. We all saw the effect Gary has on a team when he led the International Team to the only ever tie in the Presidents Cup in South Africa in 2003, which remains one of the most memorable moments in golf.
“As golf’s undisputed global ambassador, it is very fitting that the game’s return to the Olympic fold for the first time in over a century should feature a man recognised worldwide for his contribution to the game, and we are proud to have him lead our South African team.”
Player said he was honoured to captain South Africa on such a momentous occasion for golf.
“I am delighted to accept the captaincy and look forward to leading our top young professionals on the fairways of the Rio Olympics next year. This is such a big moment for our country and for the game of golf as a whole, and I’m proud to be a part of this. Golf and the Olympic movement share the same core values, and this will be a very big opportunity to grow the game around the world. And hopefully we can earn South Africa its first Olympic gold medal for a sport that has always done this country proud.”
Golf has only appeared twice at the Olympic Games, in 1900 and 1904, and with only the United States, Canada and Great Britain competing.
In 2016 and 2020, golf will be globally represented at the Olympic Games for the first time.
Player, a winner of 165 tournaments worldwide including the only person to win the career Grand Slam on both the regular and senior tours amidst his nine Majors on both, has extensive experience in team golf.
He has captained the International Team for the Presidents Cup on three occasions.
Player also made several appearances for South Africa at the World Cup of Golf. He partnered Bobby Locke to the runners-up position for South Africa in 1956, when the competition was still known as the Canada Cup. South Africa, with the team of Player and Harold Henning, won the World Cup of Golf for the first time in 1965. The same team finished second in 1966 and 1971, while in 1973 Player teamed up with Hugh Baiocchi to finish second again.