Personal Rememberances of an Enlightened Man
Indulge me while I reminisce a little. This column is about Player ' not me. But an anecdote or two will reveal his character which has been so badly misjudged by so many.
Because he is from South Africa, many assume he is racist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Player is as enlightened as anyone I know, even though thats admittedly unusual for a man raised under the ugly ruse of apartheid.
I first met him at a time when a monetary gift he was presenting to a university in Michigan was rejected. Player had attempted to start a program that would teach various segments of golf course management. But three or four members of the universitys board took one look at Players place of birth and dug in their heels.
There would be no Gary Player gift while they were sitting on the board. No sir! This was in the late 1980s, racial ignorance was still in full bloom, and as a result, the small group was able to kill the program. They had no inkling that Player was perhaps the most racially enlightened white man South Africa has ever produced. The fact that he was from South Africa itself was enough for them to nix the favor.
I wrote a column decrying the incident, then forgot about it. But Player didnt. I met him for the first time at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando shortly thereafter.
Oh, Ive been hoping someday I would meet you! said Player. Thank you very much for the article! How can I ever repay you? I appreciate it so much!
I was taken aback, quite frankly. I dont think an athlete has ever said thanks for a story Ive done. Here was Player, a great friend and supporter of Nelson Mandela, himself a benefactor of a school for black children on his South African ranch, going out of his way to thank me. I was partially aware of some of the positive things he has done to bring about racial equality, but Ive learned of many more since.
I have spoken to Player many times since that first meeting. Once at the PGA Seniors Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he taught me a lesson about what it means to be famous. It was about the downside, something I am sure few people have stopped to consider.
It was after the final round on a Sunday, and I was chatting to Player while he meandered along the ropes signing autographs. He had been signing for about 10 minutes when he turned and looked down the long line of people desperately wanting his signature.
Look at all these people, he said quietly. Ive got catch a plane in less than an hour. Ive still got to get back inside, take a shower, clean out my locker and tip the attendants. Im going to have to decide when to quit signing in a few minutes. And when I do, the people who have been waiting for me will say what I jerk I am.
And sure enough, Player finally had to put down his pen and hurry inside. And sure enough, there was a loud grumbling from the people left holding slips of paper.
There always will be those people who think you are a great guy because you had the time to sign for them, he said. And there will always be those who think you are worse than a dog because you simply, physically, do not have the time for them. To them, you are just too good to take the time. I wish there were some other way.
Player was born the poor son of a gold miner in Johannesburg. His mother had died when Player was a small child. He played for the first time when he was 14, turned professional not long thereafter, and left the country for the first time at 19.
That first trip was to play the Cairo Open in Egypt, and he was very conspicuous in a heavy sweater while everyone else wore short-sleeved shirts. The reason? Player had to borrow slacks from his father, who was several sizes larger than him. He hiked them up to his armpits, wrapped a belt around them, sweated profusely and wore the sweater to keep the gallery from seeing him do a Charlie Chaplin imitation.
And, oh yes ' he won.
On his first trip to Britain, he slept at St. Andrews - in a sand trap! He had arrived in town late and could not find a hotel room.
So-o-o, I walked out onto the course, put on my rain suit to keep the sand off me, and laid down in a bunker, he said. It certainly wasnt comfortable, but I didnt have much of a choice.
Its not surprising that Player abhors the attitude of some professionals who constantly complain about the trappings surrounding a golf tournament. Nowadays, youre playing for a winners check of six figures, well over $100,000, he says. You walk into your locker and find it stocked with balls and gloves, and there is free food in the locker room. A chauffeur meets you at the airport and then someone else gives you the key to your Cadillac. And then we have the right to complain?
Player, though, is a different breed. He wasnt raised rich. Conserving was a way of life for him. Now he has access to riches, and he cant believe what he sees. Maybe its because of his upbringing in a house where luxuries were just not available.
I have such a great love for my mother and father, he says. My mother died when I was 8 years of age of cancer. She never saw me hit a golf ball, which is very sad for me because I remember my mother very well.
And my dad did everything to help me get started in the game. When Id win a tournament, hed be like a little puppy. You can imagine being in a gold mine and having a son that turns out to be one of the world champions. He never believed that a gold miner making $100 a month would ever have that happen to him.
I must say that I appreciate what he did for me, and I try to repay it with love ' the love of a son.
Knowing Gary Player makes me a rich man.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.
Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?
Memo to the golf gods:
If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?
Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?
It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.
With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.
It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.
We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.
We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.
Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.
Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line. Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.
We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors.
In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.
While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.
Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.
Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.
Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.
While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.
Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.
So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?
McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever
With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.
The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.
Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.
"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."
McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.
But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.
"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."
What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire
Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft
Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft
Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft
Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x