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A quick look at golf’s great Player

Posted Apr 14, 2012 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Apr 14, 2012 at 09:32 PM

If there has ever been a more athletically fit golfer than Gary Player, I’d like to meet him. Even in his mid- to late 70s, the three-time Masters champion is in the weight room, staying in shape.

He is definitely the PGA Tour’s answer to Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru who died last year at age 96. Today’s golfers also stay in great shape, but Player set the standard when he joined the tour in the 1950s.

I followed Player on the course at PGA National during the final round of the PGA Seniors Championship in February 1986, and he walked the course at such a brisk pace, the sportswriters and the gallery following him hardly could keep up. Player, of course, hardly broke a sweat en route to winning the tournament with a 7-under-par 281 total.

Player won 165 events during his career and became the first international player to earn a green jacket when he won the Masters in 1961. His impact at Augusta and around the world is the focus of a short work by Augusta Chronicle sports editor John Boyette.

Gary Player: Golf’s Global Ambassador from South Africa to Augusta” (History Press, $21.99, hardback, 128 pages) gives the reader a taste of Player’s 52 appearances at Augusta, his acumen as a businessman, and his courage in breaking down barriers of apartheid in his native South Africa.

Boyette provides several anecdotes to complement his chapters, and correctly lets Player and his contemporaries do the talking. The book is also sprinkled with photos from the files of the Augusta Chronicle. There are charts displaying his year-by-year result at the Masters, plus a list of his PGA Tour, senior tour and worldwide victories.

I would love to see a long, detailed, definitive book about Player, now that his career is behind him. Boyette, however, is blessed by Player’s willingness to talk. Player recounts all of his great shots at the Masters, and Boyette also shows the humanitarian side of “The Black Knight.”  When Player won the 1965 U.S. Open to complete a career Grand Slam, he donated his entire $25,000 check to charity.

He did it, Player said, “to repay America for its many kindnesses to me over the past few years.”

I did an interview with Player once during the mid-1980s, a one-on-one kind of thing in the locker room, and he echoed the same sentiments about the United States.

“I love this country,” he said. “I’d go off to war and fight for it.”

He certainly could have made it through basic training, even as a 50-year-old.

This is a fast read, but an informative one. Player was a golf pioneer, and his grace under pressure and golfing ability endeared him to a generation of golf fans, who counted him among golf’s Big Three along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

 

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