Gary Player

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Gary Player

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Gary Player is the only golfer of the 20th century to win the Open Championship in three different decades.

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The first modern international golfer, the diminutive South African won 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades.  Only Roberto de Vincenzo and Sam Snead have won more events.  He is one of six players to win the career Grand Slam [Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship] and is the only non-American to accomplish that feat.  Player won nine majors, tied with Ben Hogan for third on the all-time list.  Only Jack Nicklaus [18] and Tiger Woods [14] have more.

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Gary Player may be the fittest 81-year-old on the planet.  At five-six and 150 pounds, Player was the first professional golfer to incorporate diet and exercise into his regimen.  He started lifting weights in the 1950s – before even NFL players started to do so – debunking the myth that pumping iron would make golfers muscle bound and tight.  An advocate of “super foods,” core strength and high-intensity training, Player has maintained the same weight for over 60 years.  “In the early part of my career, people thought I was an absolute nut for training with weights,” Player said.  “But I stuck to my workout routine even during tournaments, and it paid off big time.”

Dubbed “Mr. Fitness,” Player’s commitment to health led to unparalleled longevity.  He won at least one tournament in 27 consecutive years and played in a record 46 straight Open Championships.  Player competed in 52 Masters tournaments, more than any golfer in history, and was the last of the Big Three to retire from competing at Augusta.  In 2012, the Black Knight joined Nicklaus and Palmer as honorary starters for golf’s most tradition-rich event.

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Called the “Black Knight” from his habit of wearing all black on the golf course, Player – along with Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer – was part of golf’s Big Three.  The trio won 13 Green Jackets between them in a space of 28 years and collectively own 27 major titles.  Perhaps no threesome have come to define golf’s golden era more than Jack, Arnie and Gary.

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Player won 62 times on the Sunshine [South African] Tour and won the South African Open a record 13 times.  Between 1958 and 1978, he won 24 PGA Tour events, then went on to capture 19 Champions Tour titles.  The international ambassador of golf won 18 times on the Australian Tour to go along with his other 27 from around the globe.   In addition to his nine Grand Slam titles, Player had 44 top ten finishes in majors.  He was runner-up six times and finished third in three events.  After joining the Champions Tour, Mr. Player added six more Grand Slam titles to his resume.

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Born November 1, 1935, in Johannesburg, South Africa,  Gary Player is the youngest of three children.  Cancer took his mother, Muriel, when Gary was eight, leaving his father – who worked in the gold mines – to raise the children alone.  Player took up golf at 14.  Three years later, he turned pro.  In 1957, Player married the former Vivienne Verwey and joined the PGA Tour.  They had six children, and during the early days of his career Player would cart his wife, children, nanny and tutor from event to event.

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Player won his first PGA Tour event at the 1958 Kentucky Derby Open.  One year later, he claimed his first major with a two-shot victory at the Open Championship at Muirfield.  In 1961, Player won the first of three career Masters titles and was the leading money winner on the PGA Tour.  Two seasons later, he finished in the top ten in all four majors.  Player’s finest season came in 1974, with top-ten finishes in all four majors, including his second Masters and third career Open Championships.  The Black Knight won the ninth and final major championship of his career at the 1978 Masters, when his final round 64 propelled him to a one-shot victory over three other players.

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A renowned golf course architect with over 325 design projects on five continents around the world, Gary Player has authored or co-written 36 books.  In 1966, he was awarded the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association.  A 1974 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Player received the 2012 PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award.  In 2000, Mr. Player — a three-time President’s Cup captain — was voted South Africa’s “Sportsman of the Century.”

gary.8On this date in 1988, Gary Player beat Bob Charles in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Senior Open at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago.  It was Player’s second straight victory in the event.  He is one of seven players to win both U.S. Open and Senior Open titles.

gary.9“The harder you practice the luckier you get.”
Gary Player.

Tom Watson
Roberto De Vicenzo
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