NEWTOWN SQUARE, Penn. – Of course, Gary Player could have gotten rid of one of the mascots of the golf world a long time ago.
He’s now 86, with 160 wins — including nine major championships — and millions of dollars to his name. But the player, who hit a career grand slam when he was 29, never seemed to stop, never willing to succumb to age or outrage or siren songs of privacy or retirement.
So there he was one spring day, dressed almost entirely in black, merrily hanging around the Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia, thinking about everything, signing autographs and playing the game that made the young South African so famous.
But one of his favorite stretches of any year will come with this week’s British Open, in which he has played a record 46 consecutive times. The 150th edition of the Open begins on Thursday at the Old Course at St Andrews, which the player first visited in 1955 when he failed to qualify for the tournament.
In an interview in May at Aronimink, where he won the 1962 PGA Championship and still plays when he’s visiting his daughter, the player talked about the state of the Open and the sport and, of course, the physical regimen he’s been learning for nine decades.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You have called the British Open your favorite major. why
The British Open is the biggest championship in the world. I think the US Open is second, the PGA third and the Masters fourth.
That’s where it all started, and it’s a game that we all love and adore and what it does for us in our lives, whether you’re a professional or an amateur.
But the Open Championship is a mental challenge like no other. Remember there, because of the field, sometimes they fly at 6:30 am and the last start time is 4 pm.
So you play in the morning and you play in perfect weather and you shoot an average of 72 rounds. The wind picks up in the afternoon and a little rain and you shoot a 74 and that’s the highlight of the year you’ve played. so good So it’s going to test you more – a lot more – than any other tournament, to not feel sorry for yourself, to go in there and love adversity and realize if I can overcome this, I really am the world champion.
I’ll never forget going to St. Andrews and thinking, “What a crappy golf course.” But it was immaturity, lack of game.
You slept on the dunes on your first trip to St Andrews, didn’t you?
I leave South Africa with £200 in my pocket. That’s my total fortune in the world and now I have to play the tour and if I don’t play well I go home – not like today when you have a sponsor and guys are making millions and millions.
I arrive at St. Andrews. I don’t have a hotel reservation. So I go to these hotels – £80, £90, £100. I told him that I will sleep on the beach. It was a great evening where they did Chariots of Fire. I went and lay down on the beach waterproof. The next day I wake up and find a room for ten shillings and sixpence and sleep there.
It was right across from the 18th green. Now I’m sitting on my first tee and I’m really nervous and the beginner says, “Play it, lady.”
Ray Charles can’t miss that fairway, it’s so wide, okay? So I stand up, I play the ball, it goes out of bounds, it hits the stake, it comes back.
As I walk away, he says, “What’s your name?” I said, “My name is Gary Player, sir.” He says, “What is your disability?” I said, “No, I’m a professional.” He says, “Are you a pro? Ma’am, you must be one hell of a chipper.
Time goes by, I come back and now I’m the youngest person to win the Open. And he sees me: “This is a bloody miracle!” Actually, madam, it’s a mirage. I can’t believe it’s you. You won the Open!”
Never finished better than seventh at the St. Andrews Open. What do you think makes St. Andrews as challenging as it is?
Wind or rain, or other conditions, and staying out of bunkers, which are fatal. When you go into these bunkers, you just come out. You don’t pick up a 4-iron and throw it like you do in South Africa or America.
And then you have greens that are so big they’re double greens.
Oh my god, second shots are hard to judge.
Given how long people have been kicking, do you think the old course is irrelevant or headed for irrelevance?
This is. It’s a tragedy, but it’s not the golf course’s fault; This is the fault of our leaders. Our leaders let the ball go far.
You must have some vision in life. In their 30s and 40s, they’re going to hit the ball 500 yards.
You know, on the second hole at Augusta, they hit the eight iron. Jack Nicklaus, if you gave him that gear and let him hit it on his own time, he would hit it as far or farther than most guys. The best he did was a 5-iron.
So it’s a mockery.
Now, can you do what Augusta does? Continued to go back and buy land? No and is it necessary? No, and it’s a waste of money. Young people should get money to improve golf and facilities and give African Americans opportunities in the inner cities. They need to teach kids how to play golf.
But no, that money is wasted because now you have longer tees, it’s more irrigation, more fertilization, more machinery, more labor.
It seems to annoy you.
It burns. destroys me For a guy like Bryson DeChambeau, he could drive the first green car. He will definitely spend the third. He will carry seven to eight greens in the tournament.
seven? The most famous golf course on the planet?
I keep praying that they have some wind and some rain outside. Otherwise, they are going to destroy the golf course.
So if the course is becoming a mockery, should the R&A continue to hold Opens at St Andrews as often?
Yes, because you don’t want to lose what is so famous – the biggest championship in the world – with nonsense.
You faced protests in the 1960s for your views on apartheid, from which you later distanced yourself.
When you lived under apartheid like I did – you have no idea, young people have no idea. It was like living in Germany. If you said anything when I was young about the government, you got what they called the 90-day jail policy.
you were scared
But people protested.
In 1969, I was playing on the PGA in Dayton, Ohio, and I had phone books thrown at me, ice thrown in my eyes, balls thrown between my legs, yelled at backwards. They were all doing this to get me into the South African government because I was a world champion.
Do you think Phil Mickelson will have the same kind of shot at taking the Saudi Arabian golf swing?
He could never live up to the quality I had. I had the most places in the world and if I didn’t have all of that, I could have won more majors.
At Augusta this year, you walk into the press facility after we open the golf course. They asked a question about Phil Mickelson. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus said nothing. But, no, I won’t. Silence in the face of evil is evil.
So now there’s Phil Mickelson, the biggest PR guy golf has ever had. He was excluded because he said something in confidence to the person making the book. Say something wrong that we all do.
We all deserve a second shot. We say in our prayers, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them.” Do we stick to it? No!
Given this public attitude, do you think there is a path to public redemption for Mickelson?
The American nation is a nation, more than any other nation, that forgives. They will encourage him to the end, guarantee. If not, I’ll be shocked because he deserves it.
Rory McIlroy missed St Andrews 2015 due to injury. is it his time
Rory McIlroy is the most talented golfer in the world today. Whether you use your talent and do it effectively is up to you. By the standard of his abilities, he did not. He has now won four majors, but with his abilities, he should have won six before that. It should do much better.
But Ben Hogan – the greatest player to ever play the game – won his first major championship at just 34, so Rory is in his infancy. But everyone in the world we live in now wants instant delivery and that’s not how life works.
I’m a big fan of Rory’s as far as his future is concerned. I don’t know if he is nervous or not. I can only comment on the golf course.
He is very strong, he is very fit and a good person.
Colin Morikawa obviously had a huge Open last year. Do you see him as one of the dominant faces of the game years from now?
Throughout history you always had someone who dominated. Ben Hogan was the best that ever played. Then came Jack Nicklaus. Before that it was Bobby Jones. Then came Tiger Woods.
Now I can’t tell you who is the best player in the world. No one can claim to be the best player in the world; He can say that he is one One of the best players.
why are you still playing for fun For the physical experience? Competing with yourself?
I love people and learn something from everyone I play with.
For years I’ve been trying to beat my age by 18 shots. I have made 17 shots six times. I held it in my hand once – there was no way I could – and I honestly would have choked. It was the first time I’d had an adrenaline rush on the golf course since winning the British Open or the Masters.
But I play with Donald Trump with my friends and take it to 19. The next day I go out and get under 18 and still, I’ve been trying to get it for years. [Asked whether Player had joined Trump for a round and scored a 67, a spokesman for Trump, Taylor Budowich, replied: “He did, and President Trump was equally impressed.”]
My dream is to repay America for what it has done for me.
I want people when I die to say, “Gary Fleur, Crick, man, did he teach me how to take care of my body?” It is a holy temple. People in America don’t care about their health. Two percent, maybe – I’m being kind – lack of food, exercise, laughter and immeasurable love in the heart.
And yet what is most important in your life? Your health. People only eat themselves in their graves. I didn’t have breakfast today.
what did you have today
I had a hamburger without a bun. I don’t eat cookies. The cookie is crap. You can also eat green grass.
I don’t eat bacon. I don’t drink milk. I don’t eat ice cream. I love ice cream, I love bacon, but I swore to God I never will, because if I want to live long, it takes effort, hard work, dedication.
With all that in mind, what did you shoot today?
74. If I have a bad day, it’s 75.
I beat my age 2400 times in a row.
Are you afraid of the day you won’t be able to do it, or do you think that day will never come?
Age takes care of everything. If you are reasonably well read and intelligent, you should accept these issues.
What goes through your mind when you visit St Andrews now?
My mind goes back to 1955. Sixty seven years! Many people do not live to be 67 years old.