Gary Player was awarded the PGA TOUR's Lifetime Achievement Award this week. Here's what the golfing legend had to say about receiving the award.
Player joins Gene Sarazen; Byron Nelson; Arnold Palmer; Sam Snead; Jack Burke Jr.; Pete Dye; Deane Beman; Jack Nicklaus; and President George H.W. Bush in receiving the award, which was announced in March.
"It's very, very exciting," Player told local reporters prior to the ceremony. "A lifetime [award] and I've had a lifetime in this game. I've been a pro almost 60 years. I've probably traveled more than any human being that's ever lived around the world."
While on stage, Player also held a sit-down chat with some of the current South African professionals on the PGA TOUR who have been influenced by him – Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Retief Goosen, Rory Sabbatini and Louis Oosthuizen. All but Sabbatini have won major titles, and those five have combined for 118 victories worldwide. ( See photo below)
As for Player? He won nine major championships -- including the Grand Slam by the time he was 29 -- as well as 24 PGA TOUR events and another 19 on the Champions Tour. In all, the diminutive South African collected 165 titles around the world.
Gary Player talks about his PGA TOUR Lifetime Achievement Award.
Player's first major came at the 1959 British Open at Muirfield, the first of three British Opens. Two years later, he won the 1961 Masters, one of three Green Jackets he would earn. Player earned two PGA Championships and the 1965 U.S. Open where he beat Kel Nagle in an 18-hole playoff.
The 76-year-old Player was a fitness buff before it became fashionable and he credits his exercise regimen with his longevity as a player. He was 42 when he won his last major at the 1978 Masters, coming from seven strokes behind with birdies on seven of his final 10 holes.
Player, who was known for wearing all black, was part of the game’s Big Three, along with Nicklaus and Palmer. He joined them in hitting the ceremonial first tee shot at the Masters this year.
Beyond the golf course, though, Player has been a crusader against apartheid in his native country. His philanthropic endeavors include building the Blair Athol Schools in his native Johannesburg, which serve more than 500 students from kindergarten to the eighth grade.
Through his foundation, which was established in 1983, Player has raised more than $50 million to help educate poor children in rural South African, as well as provide nutrition and medical care. The Foundation holds fund-raising events on four continents -- Asia, Europe, South African and the United States.
Player, who is an avid horseman and rancher, is also a well-respected golf course designer with more than 350 projects around the globe. Those courses have hosted well over 100 golf tournaments, including the 2003 Presidents Cup at the Links at Fancourt.
Player served as Captain of the International Team that year, the first of three stints facing his long-time friend Nicklaus. The Presidents Cup famously ended in a tie that year.
GOLF HEROES OF SOUTH AFRICA
By John Schwarb, PGATOUR.COM
All it took was a little green to bring the hottest pink club to the public.
Bubba Watson’s all-pink Ping G20 debuted in January as a part of a fundraising initiative in which Ping donates $300 for every 300-yard drive Watson unlaunches – and considering he’s the PGA TOUR’s longest driver at 313.1 yards on average, the donations are adding up quick.
As the pink club got more face time during the season, Ping heard from plenty of fans who wanted to buy their own pink G20 (Watson’s driver last year had a pink shaft but a standard black clubhead). But the word was no, special for Bubba only.
Then he won a Green Jacket.
Tuesday, Ping announced the sale of 5,000 limited-edition pink G20s similar to Watson’s, at $430 each (available June 1). The company will donate 5 percent of proceeds to Watson’s chosen charities.
The drivers will be offered in 9.5-, 10.5-, and 12-degree lofts for righthanded players; 10.5 degrees for lefthanded – alas, no 7.5-degree lefties like Bubba’s gameday model. A women’s model will be 12 degrees with a ladies flex shaft. All come with a matching pink headcover and “Bubba Long in Pink. Driven by PING. Limited Edition 2012” script on the shaft.
BIG THREE: Think there’s still competition between Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus? The living legends – owners of a combined 13 Green Jackets -- kicked off the Masters on Thursday with the ceremonial first tee shots, and Player used a tuned Callaway Razr Fit to hit the long drive in the trio.
Player and a Callaway rep switched to a higher loft and adjusted the weights to dial in a draw, and the result was a 236-yard drive to outpace Palmer (another Razr Fit player) and Nicklaus, who used a driver from his self-named line.
MORE COLORS: Callaway is upping the ante in the increasingly popular customizing trend at udesign.callawaygolf.com, where players can build a Razr Fit driver in eight different colors (there’s red, but no pink), with dozens of grip options and more than 100 custom shaft options. Callaway says more than 70,000 combinations are possible. At the very least, it’s a fun site to click through.
NUMBERS GAME: Titleist is offering its industry-leading Pro V1 and Pro V1x in special double-digit numbers. Players may choose numbers 00 or anything from 10 to 99 (six dozen minimum) through custom orders at Titleist-authorized dealers.
WINNER’S BAG: Watson at the Masters:
Driver: Ping G20, 7.5 degrees with a Grafalloy Bi-Matrix shaft
Fairway Wood: Ping G20, 16.5 degrees with a Project X 8A1 shaft
Irons: Ping S59 (3-PW) with True Temper Dynamic Gold shafts
Wedges: Ping Tour-W (52, 56 degrees) Ping Tour-S Rustique (64 degrees)
Putter: Ping Redwood Anser
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Between them, they’ve played in 147 Masters and won a combined 13 Green Jackets.
Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player got things started at Augusta National when the three honorary starters teed off early Thursday morning. They did so to a large gallery that included three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who was dressed in his own Green Jacket.
“I've been wanting to do that every year and this worked out great because I had the last tee time,” Mickelson said after his round. “I think that it's an experience that I really enjoyed watching those guys hit it, what they have meant to the game of golf. They are what this game is all about.”
Said Player: “I thought it was remarkable.”
The three tee shots were just as remarkable. All three found the fairway on the first hole -- not that any of them could tell who drove it the farthest.
“I don't think any of us can see that far,” Nicklaus cracked. “We can hear them all land, though.”
Palmer led off, hitting his tee shot down the middle before grinning and saying "How'd I do that" to the delight of an army of fans surrounding the tee box.
Just two weeks ago, the 82-year-old was hospitalized because of a blood pressure scare.
“They switched some medicine on me,” Palmer said. “I got a little reaction with the pressure going up, and they just wanted to be cautious. That's normal when you have that kind of a situation.”
Player teed off next, followed by Nicklaus.
"Now let's get out of the way," Nicklaus said, smiling.
There was a time when the honorary starters here played nine holes. That was a long time ago, though, and Nicklaus is fine with keeping it that way.
“We all would love to still be able to play,” Nicklaus said. “ But if you go out and look at where our tee shots were, I think you would understand why we aren't.”
By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- That feeling when you turn down Magnolia Lane for the first time each year never leaves you. Just ask Gary Player, who continues to be inspired 50 years after his first Masters win.
"You know, you can never give reasons why (it's so special),'' Player said. "You can assume, but every time I got here ‑‑ invariably I got here and I said to the car ‑‑ stop, and I would walk. And I've even done it of late. And even though I'm not participating, I still said to the lady who drove me in today, wow, that feeling never leaves you.
"History can actually be created, if that's possible, and even though this is not as old as, say, The Open Championship in Britain, they have created a lot of history here, which has just accumulated. And getting out of that car and walking there and seeing where we used to practice, as you're driving on the left‑hand side, and then we moved to the right‑hand side. And now you've got, as (Augusta National chairman) Billy Payne said, the most expensive practice tee that has ever been built. So we have seen a lot of changes.''
But one thing, he said, remains. Ben Hogan is still the best Player has ever seen.
"I've never seen anybody that could hit the ball like he could,'' Player said. "And I drove up today and I could see him hitting balls. He was a man of very few words and I just sat there and watched him in awe. In those days the caddies went out there. We used to practice and there would be 50 caddies out there. Nowadays people would be killed on the practice tees and they didn't have helmets on, either.''
Player's best moment ever here?
"One of the things that I have in my life is gratitude, and I think when you struggle as a young person, and you have adversity, it teaches you to be grateful and not have a sense of entitlement, which irritates me with a lot of young people, they have this great sense of entitlement,'' he said.
"I go back to 1978, and Mark McCormack, the head of IMG, and really set the stage of the managers of the present; he was the best manager that had ever existed in sports at that time. And the last day he said, well, I've got to leave, none of my players are in contention ‑‑ 1978, and I'm seven behind Watson and all of these players. And he leaves. And he turns on the television back home in Cleveland and he sees I've come back in 30 and won. You know, he had to present me with the check; these days he would have hired a jet and be back there.
"If you look at the film, three putts actually touched the hole by that much so you're talking about a total of less than half an inch for three putts. If those three putts had gone in, I have shot 27. Thank God they didn't go in because I wouldn't be invited back shooting 27 at Augusta. That's hard to debate, the first time, or that coming back in 30 and winning.
Someone asked if Augusta would have "Player-proofed" the course if he had shot that 27?
"Well, that's a good question,'' he said, drawing a laugh from the press. "You'd better ask Billy Payne that."