Gary Player on the future of golf, his greatest achievement and living until he’s 100


Gary Player is never lost for an answer and he pulled no punches when chatting to Today’s Golfer at Wentworth recently.

From Rory to Rio and Hogan to health the Black Knight was putting the world to rights and the legendary South African's views are often forthright and controversial.

How can you ignore the thoughts of somebody who has won nine Majors, more than 167 professional tournaments, and is one of only five players to achieve the Grand Slam – and the only one to claim all of the senior Major Championships?

The answer is, you can't... When he talks, everybody listens.


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Golf is great because...

Firstly, it's a great education. To travel, without question, is the best education a man can obtain and playing golf, especially professionally, enables you to do that. Instead of studying and learning about events, you're experiencing them, from everything from politics to health and education and colleges, schools to cultures, to religions. It's all experiencing it instead of reading about it.
The other reason golf is so great is longevity: I won a tournament on the US Senior Tour at 63 and you can't do that in tennis or boxing or whatever. If you do that in tennis beyond the age of 33 it's regarded as freakish. In golf, you haven't really reached your prime at 33, so there's a vast difference.
I saw an article in a UK national newspaper claiming that Andy Murray is the greatest sportsman Britain has ever produced. How can that be? He's won three Majors – Nick Faldo has won six! And let me tell you, when you win Wimbledon you've got to beat seven people – when you win The Open you've got to beat 156. Also, at Wimbledon you're playing in the same conditions – wind, cold or hot – it's the same for everybody, whereas in The Open you might tee off in the morning and play in a howling wind and shoot 76 and play better than the man who shot 70 in the afternoon in calm weather. Even the texture of the greens changes between 7am and seven at night. Let me tell you, if Jack Nicklaus had had to beat seven people he would have won 50 Majors!

How I see the future of the game

 For Tour players, the game has never been so healthy. For an ordinary tournament now you get a $1m first prize. Galleries are enormous, TV coverage and media is massive. But the amateur game has never been so bad. It's hurting. Rounds are down. Courses are closing down because they're not able to make it financially. Why? Because of the golf ball. They've let the golf ball go 50 yards further than when we played – now a pro goes to a course and he hits a driver and 7-iron to a par 5 so the first thing the committee ask – and I've seen this happen a lot in South Africa – is shall we make it longer? And I say you're never going to see a pro here again in your life! So the pros are not important at all and the members must stop changing their courses and spending all this money.

Another thing – and you in Britain probably can't appreciate what I'm saying

We're running out of water. The world is running out of water and by 2025 the world will
be about 20 per cent short of water. Think about that. Countries like South Africa and Australia and other places just don't get any rain, or precious little. But now they're building these courses and making them longer, they're running out of water. I don't believe any course should be allowed to survive unless they use refined sewage water. Water for one golf course keeps 60,000 people alive for a year, so we can't afford to let courses survive on pure water – we've got to continue to use effluent water.

How I'd make golf more popular

We've got to cut the ball back 50 yards for the pros and stop building longer and more difficult courses that the members can't play. What they do is they make the greens too undulating, they put bunkers in front of the green... I saw this in Germany the other day with the ladies and elderly gents I was playing with – not one out of 80 players could stop the ball on the green. Not one. You can't build courses with bunkers in front of the greens any more. You can't build any crazy, undulating greens, which nearly all architects are currently doing. They're nuts!
You've got to make courses playable and enjoyable for the members. They have a perfect golf course, but next thing you know, in they (architects) come, bring the sky in, put deep bunkers in front of the greens, create undulating greens. The usual result is that the members hate it and they resign... in their millions. Now the costs are up so the clubs levy their members, and members leave because they don't want to be levied.

I'd get more youngsters playing by...

I was informed of a great idea in the US where, at 5pm, they have a shut down and just let the kids go out and play golf. This can only do good, giving the youngsters something to aspire to. I've just designed a 12-hole course in America, and it's so popular. You go there and within two hours you're finished and spend the rest of the day with the family or whatever. Remember we live in different times. When
I was a young man, men worked and women didn't. Now everybody works to make ends meet so we want more family time because
a lot of people don't see their children a lot during the week.

I wish I could have played against...

I'd love to be playing today. I'm not sorry I played when I played – to play against the best the world has ever seen like Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Locke, Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, Casper, Floyd, Irwin – was a thrill for me. And I enjoyed my time... maybe more than I would now. We spent time at tournaments staying with members in their homes. You wouldn't see that today. It's a natural evolvement, but our time with amateurs, members, and the man in the street, was something I enjoyed that they don't have the luxury of doing today. From a money point of view, I'd love to be playing. You can be an ordinary player today and still make millions – in our time you had to be in the top three to make millions.

The greatest I've ever seen was...

Ben Hogan. The best tennis player who ever lived – Australian Rod Laver – wasn't allowed to play in a Major Championship for five years in his prime because he was a professional, and it was only open for amateurs at that stage. Golf-wise, Hogan went to war in his prime for five years, then had a car accident, so for 32 Majors in his prime he never played. But he still won nine of them! That's on an 'if' basis. But the greatest player who ever lived is Jack Nicklaus. You've got to go by the record books. It's like a business – don't tell me how good your business is if it's got a bad bottom line. The record books tell you who's the best – and with 18 Majors, that person is Jack.

My own greatest moment...

Winning the Senior Grand Slam and being the only man ever to do it. Nicklaus, Palmer, Trevino, Watson... they all tried and to achieve that after 50 is tough, 'though I was as fit at 50 as I was at 20!' I'm not going to say I'm the only one, but I don't know how many other athletes can say that? You can probably count them on one hand. That was a big, big plus for me.

I keep fit by...

Well, yesterday I did 1,300 sit ups, then ran on the treadmill at max and pushed 300lb with my legs and did 100 push ups... plus all the other regular exercises. I have a good breakfast and good lunch but no dinner. You don't need dinner and dinner is what kills your health – you go to bed with a full stomach and no way of digesting it. I don't miss it. Sometimes I have to have dinner because I have functions to attend, but you'll see I just have a few little bits.

How good was golf in the Olympics...

It exceeded all expectations and surely etched its mark in Olympic folklore. The golf was not only a huge success, but also a beautiful spectacle put on by some amazing golfers and watched by thousands of appreciative fans. Long live golf at the Olympics!
For me, it was a tragedy that so many top players pulled out, mainly because of the zika virus. We battled so hard to get golf in the Olympics only for many leading players to withdraw. I couldn't understand it. I've just got back from Zambia and there was more of a chance of getting malaria there than zika, but that didn't stop me going. I'd have given anything to add a gold medal to my list of Majors. It was a huge platform for the game and hopefully the game will spring up like a mushroom in the field in the smaller countries.

Health is everything

I sincerely hope so and I should live to 100! But you never know with accidents and diseases, that might not happen. But even more importantly, we've got to start telling our children the importance of being fit and healthy. Schools have a big role to play in
this, but have got to wake up. It's not only academics that matter... it's common sense in life that is equally important and we're neglecting that. All we're doing is focusing
on academics. But health is everything...