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Gary Player’s Naked Ambition

It was approximately 9:30 p.m. in South Africa and 77-year-old Gary Player was getting ready to call it a night. “I just got into bed and I did a couple hundred crunches and 50 sit-ups before I did,” Player said by phone from his ranch one evening last week. Of course he did. That’s the life of a supermodel. In case you haven’t heard, Player is among the athletes chosen to appear in the upcoming “Body Issue” of ESPN The Magazine, a collection of photographs that celebrate the physiques of football players, basketball players, swimmers, runners and, yes, even old golfers. The kicker is all of the model/athletes pose in the nude, even 77-year-old golfers. “At first, I wasn’t very keen to do it,” Player said with a chuckle. Then came the key words – tastefully done – and Player agreed to show the world the body he’s been working on since he was 9 years old. Player is not bashful. Years ago, after winning a Champions Tour event at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, Player celebrated by swimming a victory lap in the club pool. It was a hot, sticky afternoon and upon finishing his champion’s press conference in a cabana beside the pool, Player stripped down to his tighty whities and dove in for a swim while dozens of people watched. He wore more that day than he wears in the magazine photo. For his “Body Issue” portrait, Player holds an oversized golf ball painted black – he is the Black Knight, after all – in front of him. “The golf ball was so heavy … It was hard to hold up. It made me feel good,” Player said. After traveling, by his estimate, more than 15 million miles in his life and spending more time in the sky than most satellites, Player still feels good. “I’ve taken such a pride in my fitness all my life that if I can do something to encourage somebody to stay in great shape, particularly with all the obesity today, it’s a great honor for me,” he said. “At 77, I am honored to be oldest to pose for the Body Issue. I’m certainly not an Olympic athlete and I know this. While hesitant to bare all at first, I see this as opportunity to show others the importance to be it and healthy.” In his career, Player won 18 majors on the regular and senior tours and 165 tournaments around the world. His is the original face of global golf. He also introduced raisins, bananas and jogging to snack bars and golfers. He might faint if he visited a Five Guys. Player was 9 when his older brother, Ian, joined the military during World War II. Before Ian left, he made his little brother promise he would exercise for the rest of his life. Player promised and he’s still true to his word. “I usually exercise about four times a week,” Player said. “I do about 1,200 crunches, then squats, then light bench presses. Not many bench presses. I do a lot of treadmill running and a lot work on my thighs and core. I keep my hands strong as well.” And I feel good about myself if I leave a few fries on my plate at lunch. For years, Player has preached the gospel of good health and his message has become more urgent in recent years.


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