Gary Player The Best Ever

By Brian HewittMarch 3, 2007, 5:00 pm
Did anybody else get a load of this remark from Jack Nicklaus the other day. And I quote:
Ive said for years that hes the best golfer that ever lived.
It was in response to a question, asked Tuesday. And I quote the question: Jack, with Gary playing his 50th, could you just comment on Garys ability and just what made him a champion?
The Gary referenced was Player and the 50th was The Masters.
OK, admit it. You didnt see this quote. Tuesday was a busy news day in golf. The USGA announced a proposal for more stringent standards on wedge grooves; Ernie Els left Titleist for Callaway; and The Tiger Woods Foundation became the primary beneficiary for the July 4th weekend PGA TOUR event that will take place near Washington D.C. and replace The International, which is now officially defunct.
I will admit this: I have never thought of Gary Player as the best golfer who ever lived. Top 10? Probably. Top five? Certainly not. Woods, Nelson, Hogan, Nicklaus and Snead'just to name a quick quintet in no particular order'are ahead of Player.
I will also admit this: I cant, for the life of me, figure out why Nicklaus, a proud man, chose to single out Player in such an exalted way. Yes, yes, of course. Players record for winning is prolific: Twenty-four PGA TOUR victories; 19 Champions Tour wins; And, in the PGA Champions Tour media guide, are listed 110 other victories.
Player won nine professional majors and is one of only five men to have won all four at least once. The latter feat he achieved before his 30th birthday.
Only Nicklaus, with 163, has played more Masters rounds of golf than Player (158).
Maybe Jack was trying to soften Player up for the next renewal of their rivalry as captains. That would be the Presidents Cup in late September in Canada. In fact it was at a press conference to promote that event that Nicklaus made his comment.
Nicklaus also tried to paint the Americans as underdogs. Gary will have more players in the top 20, than I will probably, Nicklaus said.
Not so fast, Jack. Currently there are six Americans in the top 20; seven Internationals in the top 20 and seven Euros on the top 20. Who among us can be sure how those numbers will shake out by September?
Player, of course, didnt sit by mum at this Tuesday gathering in Florida. Among his notable statements:
On the friendly rivalry embraced by the Presidents Cup: The War on the Shore: If youve got a son who lost his life in the war you dont want to hear about a golf match being a war because it certainly isnt a war. The spirit was going downhill until September 11, and since then the Ryder Cup has gone on in a terrific atmosphere, absolutely marvelous. But prior to that it was terrible.
Nicklaus went on to add that he could envision, some day, a combining of the Presidents and Ryder Cups. King of the Hill, Nicklaus called it. Nicklaus also said, since the top Americans play a Cup every year, he would excuse a player taking a year off if he didnt feel he was sharp or fresh or both.
Player, not surprisingly, wasnt hearing any of that. Is that really asking too much when you think of what it does for the game of golf? he asked. Dont they owe it to golf, or are we going to be insular and say, Im not going to play. Im tired. Ive done this, Ive got the money. Surely weve got to think of more than that. The average businessman goes to work 50 weeks a year, 49 weeks a year. It doesnt matter how rich he is. And he is under big pressure. I think were going into an age where we spoil our golfers, quite honestly.
Player also said he wouldnt put Mike Weir on his team simply because the matches are taking place in Weirs home country. I cant just put a Canadian in because were playing in Canada and the people would love to see it, Player said.
Fair enough.
Meanwhile Player had plenty of nice things to say about Nicklaus as a player as well. But he was more effusive in his praise of Ben Hogan particularly in the context of equipment improvements in recent years.
You can only say the best striker I ever saw in my life, ever by a mile, was Ben Hogan, Player said. But he was the best in his era. He was the best in his era and Tiger is the best in his era. Give Ben Hogan this stuff (modern equipment) and lets see what happens then. Ben Hogan might not have left the fairway in a month. Im not joking when I tell you that. I mean, he was a machine. With that crappy stuff? I watched him the first time I played in my life in America at Seminole. You cannot believe how he played. I mean, its very important to put things in the right perspective.
How about this perspective?
Gary Player is the best golf talker that ever lived.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
Getty Images

Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

Getty Images

Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

Getty Images

A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

Getty Images

McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”