While Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were shaking the world of golf on the American front, one man from South Africa was making a name for himself internationally, winning tournaments all over the planet and eventually proving to be a worthy rival for The King and the Golden Bear.
Gary Player is without question one of the best players to ever live. The South African earned over one hundred titles in various tours throughout his career including nine major championships.
With his talent and personality, he changed the way the sport of golf was thought about on an entire continent and earned himself a place in the record books as one of the best players of all time.
Today we will be taking a look at Gary Player’s life to see what makes him so special.
Gary Player biography
Gary Player was born on November 1, 1935 in Johannesburg, South Africa as the youngest child of Harry and Muriel Player.
Unfortunately, his mother passed away of ovarian cancer at a young age leaving Gary when he was only eight years old. Young Player grew up with a humble background as his father was left alone to support his three children.
Despite the modest income that Harry’s job of working in the gold mines yielded him, he was eventually able to take a loan and buy Gary his first set of golf clubs.
Despite the fact that Player did not have the same early start to the sport that most pros have, he took to the game very quickly.
Player started the game at the age of thirteen, parring the first three holes that he ever played. By the age of sixteen he would declare openly that his goal was to be the best in the world by the age of seventeen he would turn pro.
Shortly after turning pro he would meet and marry his wife Vivienne, whom he has had six children with.
Life on tour
Gary Player is one of the most successful PGA Tour players to ever live, but perhaps even more impressive is the number of titles he has won aggregately when you combine his victories from a number of international tours.
With 164 known wins, only Sam Snead and Robert De Vincenzo have claimed more aggregate professional titles than Player.
Given the number of different tours and locations that Player participated in throughout his career, it is difficult to give a tournament by tournament account of his triumphs.
However, it is fair to say that Player started finding success quickly, winning for the first time on the South African tour (known now as The Sunshine Tour) in 1955 at the age of twenty. He would go on to win sixty three more times on the South African tour, though he is most famous for his time spent in the U.S.
By the late 50s he would start participating heavily in the PGA tour, and quickly find success. This success culminated most famously in a victory at the 1959 British Open Championship where he would secure his first of nine major titles. By 1961 he would hold the money title on tour.
As Player was quickly accumulating titles both in the US and overseas, he also gained attention for utilizing a workout routine that was many decades before its time. Indeed, Player may well be the first tour player to exercise with the same intensity that athletes of other sports did.
Naturally, this workout routine would vary throughout the course of his career though it was notably characterized by workouts like one handed push ups, and many hundreds of sit ups each and every day. Player was also an advocate for a wide variety of different diets that he believed would promote health and well-being.
Ultimately, it was Player’s energy that established his success as a tour player. In addition to his twenty-four PGA tour victories, he earned another 140 or so titles by maintaining one of the busiest schedules in golf.
In fact, Player is informally considered to be the most well-traveled athlete on the planet, with tournament commitments taking him all over the world.
It is through this vigor and enthusiasm for the game that Player would establish himself as one of the top three players of his generation alongside legends Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. This rivalry would extend for decades and earn the three players the nickname of “The Big Three”.
Player has earned a number of distinctions throughout the course of his career, including being one of only five professionals to earn the career grand slam which he accomplished at age 29.
Today, Gary Player’s accomplishments still stand as some of the most significant in the history of the game.
In addition to being a titan of the sport as a competitor, Player continues to be a global ambassador for the game, designing courses, playing in exhibitions, and running his foundation, aptly named The Gary Player Foundation which works towards giving under privileged children all across the world the opportunity to receive proper nutrition and education.
Even as late as 2008, Player was still competing in the Master’s Tournament at the age of 72. Player also continues to be and advocate for diet and healthy living. In fact, in addition to all of Player’s golfing records, he also holds the distinction of being the oldest athlete to ever appear nude for ESPN’s body issue.
Golf is a game of many legends, but none of them are quite like Gary Player. Even at age 82 the man is extremely active, extremely enthusiastic, a tremendous advocate for the game.
The Black Knight may not have quite the same PGA Tour record as Nicklaus or Palmer but he does have an incredible passion and flare that few to have ever played on the global stage can match.
Without doubt or question Gary Player is very special, and the game of golf is lucky to have him.
- Arnold Palmer biography
- Ben Hogan biography
- Bobby Jones biography
- History of golf balls and golf clubs
- Jack Nicklaus – The Golden Bear
- Major tournament history
- Ryder Cup history
- Sam Snead biography
- The life and times of Seve Ballesteros
- The origins and history of golf
- Tiger Woods biography
- Tom Watson biography
- Walter Hagen biography