Gary Player

Gary Player is one of the greatest golf players that the sport has ever known. Famous for his strict regime of fitness and discipline, his trophy cabinet includes every one of the Majors, as well as numerous other prestigious titles, spanning over 50 years on both the Regular and the Senior Circuits.

Early days

Player was born on November 1st, 1935 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He experienced an early tragedy in his life when, at eight years of age, his mother died of cancer. His father was also away for much of the time working in the nearby gold mines, which may have influenced his strong commitment to his family in later life.

His first experience of golf came when he received his first set of clubs at the age of 14. He began to play regularly at the Virginia Park golf course near his house, and took an early shine to the sport. His talent was so great that in 1953, at the tender age of 17, he had made the decision to go professional.

Early career

Two years later he travelled to England, and was told that he would never make it as a professional. But instead of putting a dent in his ambitions, it only succeeded in providing him with an even greater determination.

The following year, he returned to England with victory in mind, and proved his point by winning the Dunlop Masters in Sunningdale. That same year, he also managed to win the first of 13 South African Opens, a record that stands to this day.

Family

The following year, on January 19th, 1957, he got married, and he and his wife would go on to have six children and 20 grandchildren.

His commitment to his family was evident, and during his early career he was never separated from them, insisting that all of them accompany him on his travels to various tournaments across the world.

First Major

Player’s first Major victory came two yeas after his marriage, at the 1959 British Open at Muirfield, Scotland.

This victory, where he beat Fred Bullock and Flory van Donck, saw him mark his place amongst the best players of the day. It was a particularly significant win, as he was the youngest player at the time to ever lift the trophy.

Indeed, it marked the start of a long love affair with the British Open, which would go on to see him win two more titles, in 1968 and 1974. In so doing, he became the only player in history to win the title in three different decades, which is a testimony to his incredible longevity as a player.

In all, he played in 47 consecutive British Opens, with his last one coming in 2001 whilst playing on the Senior Circuit.

The record breaker

He soon went on to win his second Major, this time the Masters in 1961. It was a dramatic victory for Player, who was up against another golf legend, Arnold Palmer. Palmer only needed par four to win, but managed to double bogey the last hole, allowing Player to win it by a stroke.

This victory made him the first non-American golfer to ever win the title, and saw his fame rocket. He was now not only one of the greatest players of his generation, but he was breaking records around the world.

The Majors

As well as his first two Majors, Player went on to win the following Majors over the next two decades:

  • 1962 PGA Championship
  • 1965 US Open
  • 1968 British Open
  • 1972 PGA Championship
  • 1974 British Open
  • 1974 Masters
  • 1978 Masters

The most significant of these was perhaps the 1965 US Open, where he was once again the first non-American player to win the title. With this victory he joined Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan to become, at only 29 years of age, the third player in history (although now joined by two others) to win the Grand Slam, cementing his name as one of the greatest players of all time.

Being the person and player that he was, he donated his winnings to two separate charities, the Junior Golf Association and the Cancer Association, the latter in tribute to his mother.

The 1978 Masters victory was also particularly significant, in that he became the oldest ever winner of the title, breaking yet more records.

The Modern Triumvirate

Player was joined by two other golfers who dominated the game throughout the late 1950s and the early 1970s. Along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, they managed to completely dominate the sport, and became known as ‘The Big Three’ and ‘The Modern Triumvirate’.

The Black Knight

Player’s most famous nickname is The Black Knight, which came from his highly competitive but nevertheless courteous manner, and his tendency to wear black. Indeed, it is this name which now promotes his business, Black Knight International.

However, as is often the case with characters in sport, he picked up a few other nicknames throughout his career, including Mr Fitness and the International Ambassador of Golf.

One name that he was given, The World’s Most Travelled Athlete, has now been trademarked, and was created in response to his clocking up over 13 million air miles throughout his playing career.

Other victories

Despite his nine Major victories, Player managed to accumulate 163 tournament titles in all, in a career which spanned the best part of five decades.

During this time, he managed to get at least one victory in every year for 27 consecutive years, with the next player coming 10 years below this.

His Major record also includes a wealth of near misses, as he managed to get five second-place finishes along with his victories, and enjoyed 29 top 10 finishes over his playing career.

Overall, he ranks third in total professional wins behind Roberto de Vicenzo and Sam Snead.

Later career

Player joined the Senior Tour in 1985, and enjoyed as much success as he had on the Regular Tour. To this day, he is the only player to have ever won the Grand Slam on both tours.

After he had finished playing on the Senior Tour, he was asked to captain the 2003 Presidents Cup team on a golf course that he had himself designed, which ended in a tie. He then went on to captain the team again in 2005 and 2007, but the Americans won on both occasions.

The businessman

In recent years, he has hung up his clubs and become an astute businessman. As well as running Black Knight International, he also runs The Gary Player Stud Farm, which breeds prize racehorses, and is a golf course architect, designing over 250 courses worldwide.

As well as this, his charitable side is promoted through The Player Foundation, the primary concern of which is to promote worldwide education.

Tour Victories

  • PGA Tour: 24
  • Senior PGA Tour: 19

Awards

  • PGA Tour Money Leader, 1961
  • Bob Jones Award, 1966
  • Golf Hall of Fame, 1974
  • South African Sportsman of the Century, 2000