The Cut : The Cut - Spring 2016
GOLF & LEISURE 29 A conversation with 80-year-old Gary Player is a profoundly different experience. This famous golfer is almost as renowned for his endless press-ups, chin-ups and homespun philosophies as he is for his peerless golfing record. Not from his tongue the stock-in-trade sporting clichés or the long-winded, vapid answers synonymous with so many sports icons these days. Forever the personification of courtesy and respect, he nonetheless offers unapologetically trenchant honesty on any number of subjects far removed from golf. He abhors political correctness but fears freedom of speech is all but dead. He was the man who coined the phrase, “the harder I practise, the luckier I get”. Mind you, some of his down-to-earth truisms wade through a fair bit of cluttered syntax before getting to the point, like this little cracker from 1965: “Golf asks something of a man. It makes one loathe mediocrity. It seems to say, ‘If you are going to keep company with me, don’t embarrass me’.” Sixty-three years as a pro has nonetheless left him with an enormous fount of wisdom. Player has long had a special bond with and passion for New Zealand. He deeply admires the talents of both Danny Lee and Lydia Ko. Like most white South Africans he’s obsessed with rugby and has enormous respect for the All Blacks and the brand of rugby they play, but in the very next breath reveals his reservations about the haka. “I don’t like your haka and this business of poking your tongue out at your opponents, but I understand this is your tradition and I can accept that,” he says. Then, as if to offset any embarrassment he might have caused to his New Zealand listener on the other end of his phone line, he attempts a little humour. “Imagine if I started poking my tongue out and waving spears at my playing partners on the first tee at Augusta.” There’s one other Kiwi custom he absolutely loves – the absence of death duties. “You work hard all your life and pay tax on everything you earn and then when you die they tax you again for dying; I’ve never understood that.” The South African visited here back in the 1960s for a series of exhibition matches. He can’t recall the four courses he played (“Hey, remember I’m now 80!”) but he did record a hole-in-one on a particular par-4 and labels it the most memorable of his 13 holes-in-one. In his heyday back in the 60s and 70s, Player was the game’s first fitness pioneer and when asked if he is still a keep-fit junkie he promptly outlines what he’s done prior to our conversation. “ Today I have done 300 sit-ups, leg-pushed 400 pounds, had a good long session on the treadmill and done 100 press- ups. And I have no doubt in my mind I could beat 80 per cent of the world’s 30-year-olds in the gym. Remember,” he says, dropping in another of his witty aphorisms, “exercise is the poor man’s plastic surgery.” Even at 80, Player comfortably shoots under his age every time he plays. He reckons his average score these days on any given course is around 70 and reminds me he was still winning on Senior tours well into his 60s. And, in case I was wasn’t aware, he unashamedly tells me he is the only golfer in history to have done the Grand Slam of golf twice, once on the regular PGA Tour and once on the US Senior Tour. These days, golf architecture commands much of his time as he happily traipses around the world for up to seven months of the year attending to his clients’ needs. His company has designed more than 300 courses worldwide and, to put it in his own words, he is “the world’s most travelled person – so far I’ve racked up 25 million kilometres”.
The Cut - Winter 2016
The Cut - Summer 2017