Gary Player, 74, has enjoyed a Hall of Fame career on the golf course
that now is in its seventh decade. Over that time, he has won more
than 150 tournaments, including nine majors, and is one of just five players
to who have captured golf’s career Grand Slam. Off the course, Player is a
renowned golf course architect, philanthropist, and has used his fame
to spread the gospel of fitness. The legendary Black Knight sat with Global Golf Post Senior Correspondent Lewine Mair to discuss a number of topics, from Tiger Woods to his
goal of living to 100.
GGP: Has Tiger’s on-going predicament taught the golfing world something
of the dangers of deifying a player too soon?
GP: To be honest, I don’t see this as a lesson the golf world has
to learn. I see it as a lesson that Tiger has to learn. We cannot
blame the media for making him out to be something he was not. Being
world No. 1 and arguably the most recognizable athlete on the planet
does not give him – or anyone else for that matter – the right to
dishonor his family. I think Tiger is a great golfer and will more
than likely end his career as the greatest we have ever seen, but his
mistakes were of his own making.
GGP: Ever since Tiger started setting records in the amateur arena, parents
have been encouraging their offspring to do as he did in starting golf
almost as soon as they can walk. Would you sooner see children playing
a variety of games at an early age – as, indeed, you did yourself?
GP: I’m not too worried about children homing in on golf at an
early age. The main thing is that they should be out doing something
and not spending their days in front of the television and playing
video games. I want to get a message through to 100 million
schoolchildren to make them understand that your body is a holy temple.
But how do you do this when they are fed absolute junk by their
parents? Just look what they eat. Many start their day with a white
bread roll and two pieces of fatty bacon, very possibly covered in
cheese. It’s ruinous to their health. It’s all fat.
There is not a school in the U.S. or South Africa or Britain, I know of,
that teaches children how to eat. You can’t just get by on academics.
Schools have got to make the first subject every day about health. At
the same time, they should be allocating an hour a day for strenuous
GGP: Since you are in the unique position of having played winning
golf across six decades, can you identify your particular strengths at
GP: Up until the age of 30, my biggest strength was my burning
desire to win tournaments and, more importantly, majors. Also, the
commitment I made to diet, health, fitness, practice and training my
mind to always think positively. I knew that I wasn’t the most
talented person on the course, but I was determined to be the best
prepared, both physically and mentally.
Between 30 and 45, I would identify my strengths as technical know-how
allied, once again, to my mental approach and physical fitness. In the
case of the latter, my early training allowed me to carry on competing
at the highest level at a time when most players start to lose a bit of
From 45 to 55, it was always my physical fitness. When I
turned 50 and began my career on the Champions Tour, I knew that I had
a much shorter window to win majors. I set a goal for myself – to win
the Grand Slam on the Champions Tour – and I knew that I had to be in
top physical condition to do so. I won nine senior majors and, though
others might find this hard to believe, I consider that to be a greater
accomplishment than my nine regular majors.
In my 50s and 60s, it was physical fitness again – that along with
a wealth of experience. I knew how to win because I had won majors and
faced just about every pressure situation that is possible to face, both
on and off the course. Nothing fazed me at this point in my career.
Now I’m in my 70s, I have to say that “fun” is the major factor. I
still play competitively, and winning still gives me the same rush as it
did 50 years ago. That certainly applied when I won the Demaret
Division with my friend Bob Charles at last year’s Legends of Golf.
Yet, as I mentioned, the golf I play today is about enjoying the
experience of playing with old friends and rivals, interacting with the
crowds and paying homage to the game and the people who allowed me to
have such a fulfilling career.
GGP: Many of us have heard you say that you have spent more time in
planes than anyone else. Has your body become accustomed to being in
the air as much as on the ground or do you still get jet-lag – and if
you do, have you ever found the cure?
GP: Oh, I still get jet-lag. I am on the road about eight to nine months
each year and it is a difficult schedule to maintain, but I love it. I
don’t know if my body is more accustomed to flying versus staying on
the ground, but after more than 50 years of travel and over 15 million
air miles, it is pretty much second nature.
My cure for jet lag is fairly straightforward – eat healthy, low-fat
meals, avoid sweets and snacks that drain your energy (sugary foods are
a killer), drink lots of water, exercise and sleep whenever you can to
get on the local time zone.
GGP: When some of the moderns start winning, the first thing they seem
to do is to invest in a series of ever-faster cars. Did you ever go
through such a phase or were you always committed to setting things up
for your family – and then for the school you run on your farm at home?
GP: In my day, the purses where nowhere near what they are today, so
my earnings went immediately to supporting my family and my playing
career, which involved a lot of expense because South Africa was my
starting point. I soon had six children to support, so any idea that I
could go out and buy a fast car would never have had a chance of making
it past my wife, Vivienne.
I remember one day about five or so years ago I was playing with one of
the hot young stars dubbed the next challenger to Tiger. He
asked me if I had my own plane and what kind it was because he was
looking into buying one for himself. Now here was a guy who had never
won any kind of professional tournament and he was thinking about
buying his own private jet. I would have thought he would have done
better to ask me about my golf, finding out how much practice I did,
etc. Mastering your mind and game should always come first. Only then
can you start thinking about toys.
My school – Blair Atholl – is one of my greatest, if not my greatest,
accomplishments in my life off of the course. I am so proud of what we
have built and the education we have been able to provide for so many
needy children. I had a humble upbringing and know first-hand what it
means to have very little. It’s a difficult life that children do not
deserve. They cannot choose their parents or what situation they are
born into. My dedication to helping them is one of my true passions.
GGP: Your wish is to live to 100. A lot of people say they wouldn’t
want to live that long. How do you plan to make the most of the later
GP: I have no doubt that I will make it to 100. What’s more, there are
plenty of things to keep me enthusiastic about the years ahead. I expect
to keep traveling to the same extent over the next decade
because I so enjoy traveling to the different countries and learning
about cultures and heritage. I also love planning courses. At Gary
Player Design, we’re taking a more aggressive approach to sustainable
design and I am trying to make it a central element in every new
project. Just think about how much water your average golf course uses
at a time when there are so many other needs for what is a slowly, but
surely, dwindling resource. Also, the overuse of dangerous chemicals and
fertilizers has to stop.
When I do slow down, I will try to spend as much time as I can on my
farm in Colesburg, where I have my own eco-friendly course that I and a
handful of fellow workers have been building over the past 10 years.
I love it in Colesburg – the animals, the mountains and the peaceful
living. It is my Nirvana.