Let’s make it official. Gary Player is The Most Traveled Man in Golf. Having played global golf for over 60 years, he has earned that title.
And having recently shared a plane with The Black Knight from Florida to Missouri, it’s clear he’s not stopping anytime soon. Since February and through mid-May, Player will have been to eight countries and seven states in America. “I love travel and I love people,” says Player.
I can relate. And I can listen. Which is a good thing when you sit across from a legend with a lot on his mind.
I asked if he felt the respect and appreciation from the current crop of young tour players:
“I don’t hang out with them enough to know the answer to that question,” says Player. “I’m an admirer of their manners, the dress code and the way they handle the public and the press. They owe it to them and their sponsors. When that guy DeChambeau came up to me on the practice tee at Augusta and said, ‘Thank you very much for tweeting on my victories and wishing me good luck.’ He’s a very well-mannered young man. I find them all very well-mannered. It’s a different generation. It’s a different time.”
And when I asked about the Big 3 of his time compared to the concept of a current Big 3:
“Billy Casper used to say, ‘The Big 3 and me.’ Billy Casper won two majors, man. That’s his point of view, and I accept it. And I loved Billy, but you’ll never see a Big 3 like Arnold, Jack and myself again. Not talking about playing. It would be very forward of me to say that. We won between us, at least fifty majors. I’d like to work that out exactly, because this comes up all the time. Regular and Senior majors.”
(Nicklaus, Palmer and Player won a combined 53 regular and senior major championships.)
“We won over 350 tournaments together as well. So, can any three do that? Yes, they can. But they’ll never have the life that we had. Today, they have a private jet, they finish, swoosh, they’re gone. They have business. They have outings. They have all these commitments. And they can get back to their families. We couldn’t do those things.”
Having combined the experience of the past with modern resources, Player is doing it all now. From consulting and charming business partners and clients on a regular basis, to building golf courses at the Greenbrier for Jim Justice and a 12-hole course at Big Cedar Lodge for Johnny Morris.
“I’m very excited about it,” says Player. “I told Johnny that a short course like this can grow the game and especially help introduce the concept of speed of play.”
Maybe even more spectacular than Top of The Rock, which is the nine-hole course built by Jack Nicklaus and used in the Bass Pro Shop’s Legends of Golf, Player’s short course will feature more infinity greens overlooking the tree-choked topography of the Ozarks.
“It’s such a pleasure to work with someone like Johnny,” says Player. “We’ve done courses for millionaires and they never come out. Johnny doesn’t just come out, he comes out for all the right reasons. He cares.”
Throughout the flight, Player also offered opinions on Tiger Woods:
“Let’s hope he comes back and wins. Wins majors. But man he’s got an uphill battle.”
“The first time I played golf with Ben Hogan was a U.S. Open. We played 36 holes. He said six words to me: ‘Good mornin’, fella.’ And, ‘Well played son.’ But I loved playing with him.”
“I once worked up the nerve to ask Mr. Jones a question about Augusta National. I was young. I had only played the Masters a few times, and I said, ‘Mr. Jones, I can’t figure out how to make a birdie on the third hole. Do you have any advice for me?’ He didn’t look up, only leaned in, and said, ‘Son, you’re not supposed to make birdie on the third hole. It’s designed for you to try to make par.”
“Mark signed me. Then Jack. And then the Pope. The Pope! And then Pele. And then Twiggy. This guy was a genius. People think he only worked with golfers. He was signing movie stars.”
“Jordan Spieth, in my eyes, has a small problem in his backswing. And if he gets that rectified, let me tell you something, this guy is going to do things as well as anybody as I’ve ever seen.”
The 2016 Masters:
“McIlroy plays this year at Augusta, and he plays magnificent golf but he finishes 10th, or whatever it is. Spieth played terrible. When I say terrible, he came with a B-game, which he admitted. When are we going to learn that it’s not about striking the ball? It’s not long distance. It’s the short game! I mean, even the way he played, Jordan had a chance of winning the Masters. Remember how he finished 17 and 18 on Saturday? And then on Sunday, he drove it in the bamboo at No. 4. How the hell it came out, I don’t know. He drove it left on No. 5. Comes to No. 10 and drives it right. Drives it into the tress at 11. And you saw what happened at 12. The one thing you can’t do—the 52 times I’ve played there—I don’t ever remember knocking it into the water. I might have, but I don’t remember doing it. You play to the middle of the green. You’ve got a lead! Come on, man. At 13, his ball goes through the branches. He missed the putt on 16. And now, he comes to 17, he drives into the middle of the fairway and hits it into the bunker. So, did he really deserve to win the Masters? No. But I didn’t hear any accolades for Willett, who drove it like a bullet, he hit these beautiful iron shots and putted well, and played with big heart. We aren’t hearing much about that.”
What we have recently heard about is #SB2K16, a Bahamian adventure involving Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Smiley Kaufman and Justin Thomas.
#SB2K16 @JordanSpieth @JustinThomas34 @SmylieKaufman10 appreciate the support @Casamigos pic.twitter.com/R1drwspfXH
— Rickie Fowler (@RickieFowler) April 20, 2016
No shock, that upon getting caught up on the wild adventures, brought to us by various forms of social media and seemingly sponsored by Casamigos Tequila, an 80-year-old Gary Player wanted a piece of next year’s action:
#SpringBreak c.1965. @JackNicklaus and I out on safari in South Africa. Good times. How about an invite to #SB2K17 pic.twitter.com/RNJ0S0VPhb
— Gary Player (@garyplayer) April 26, 2016
And on that note, a fitting thought on what will forever be The Big Three:
“Jack, Arnie and I were brothers. We wanted to beat each other. I can promise you, we were three of the fiercest and competitive players who ever lived, but when we lost, we’d look the winner in the eyes and we’d say, ‘Well done, I’ll get you next week.’”