Players Career One Big Highlight Pt 1

By George WhiteMarch 11, 2003, 5:00 pm
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the professional debut of Gary Player. To commemorate the occasion, the following is a three-part series on Players early years, his life as a major-championship winner, and his activities off the golf course.
 
To a young boy who excelled in soccer, track, cricket and rugby, this sport was sissy. Oh, Gary Player had piddled around with golf as a youngster. He swatted at balls with a stick festooned with bent wire on the end. He had fished in the lakes of the local golf course with his toes, fished for golf balls, and he and his friends actually found quite a few on weekends.
 
But play? No, of course not. Young Gary was too intent on playing his macho sports.
 
He was almost 15 years of age, in 1949, when his father leaned upon Gary to come join him for a day at the nearby Virginia Park golf course. Harry Player was going to the course with the other members of his regular foursome ' Marcus Levy, Fred Becket and Ralph de la Briever ' and he figured it was time his son was exposed to the game.
 
Son, I think youre ready now to go out and play on a real course, said Harry. He wasnt asking - he was demanding, in his own fatherly way. Young Gary knew when his father meant business. Now was one of those times, so Gary dutifully tagged along.
 
That was the day destined to change the worldwide face of golf forever. Poppa Player, a 2-handicapper, only had this small bit of advice: Keep your head still and make sure you follow through. And Gary listened - he parred the first hole he played ' a par-3. Then he parred the second. And the third.
 
From then on his card was covered with 6s, 7s, 8s and an occasional 9, but he was hooked. He was a hopeless addict to golf, an exercise that would take him on a journey that would go on and on for 14 million miles, around the world countless times, through all the major tours of the globe, through victories in nine major championships.
 
Young Gary was born in 1935 in the community of Lyndhurst, the third child of Harry and Muriel Player. Harry toiled in the gold mines around Johannesburg, never making more than $200 a month. Muriel, a loving mother, died when Gary was only 8. The fact that she never saw Gary hit a golf ball is something that troubles him to this day. Most are his features ' his 5-foot-7 frame in particular ' are owed to the dimunitive frame of his mother.
 
Garys older brother, Ian, left home at the age of 16 for World War II. His sister, Wilma, left home for boarding school. It became lonely for young Gary, who occupied himself with all kinds of sports ' except golf. That is, until he was in the latter stages of his 14th year. Once he experienced golf, however, no other sport seemed to matter.
 
I think I found out very quickly how difficult it is, he says now. I was a four-letter man in school and I can tell you that golf is more difficult that all four put together.
 
Within 16 months of that first golfing experience, Gary had his handicap down to a zero. I dont know if theres any such thing as a natural, but there is such a thing as ball sense, he says. I had ball sense and reflexes. And I was always very supple.
 
Virginia Park golf course became his second home. Player took his first lessons from the professional there, Jock Verwey. He met Verweys son, Bobby, and the two played golf every weekend. Oh ' there was a third person that played with them. Bobbys sister, Vivienne. She was only 13 then and Player 14, but she would one day become Garys wife.
 
I had gone into her fathers pro shop for some tees, Player remembered their first meeting. She had a pink sweater on and was working behind the counter, helping her father. In a matter of days Viv, Bobby and Gary played their first round together. The three put up two shillings each ' about a quarter ' to see who would be the first to break 50 for nine holes.
 
Player finally captured the shillings when he broke the 50 mark at 15, shooting a 48. I remember they had giggled when I first teed off and bungled the ball a few feet over their heads, he said. And the thrill of breaking 50 for the first time was really every bit as great a feeling for me as winning the Masters or the U.S. Open.
 
A touching moment in his life occurred at the age of 16, when his father surprised him with a new set of Wilson Turfrider clubs. Harry didnt much of a big deal about it ' I had a bit of money, he said. But eight years later Gary found out the truth from the back manager where the family did their business ' his father had taken out a loan for the clubs.
 
Gary began spending all his spare time at the golf course. There is no way anyone could have worked any harder than I did, he explained. I played truant (hooky) from school. I would go out with my clubs in the morning and hit balls all day long until 6 in the evening ' with only an hour for lunch and maybe a half-hour nap on days when it was very warm. The whole day was golf.
 
And he exercised religiously since he always was small in stature. He ran the nearby hills with brother Ian as a drill sergeant. He did 70 finger-tip push-ups. Finally came the day that he announced his plans to his father ' he wanted to turn pro.
 
Father Harry didnt take kindly to Garys dreams of becoming a professional golfer. Harry dreamed of his son completing his education. But Gary had a good point ' there wasnt money for university studies.
 
His father resisted the idea. Player remembers him saying, Gee, what are the chances of you being a champion? You should really continue your education. Gary couldnt argue with that reasoning, but the circumstances were in his favor ' there was very little money to be spent on further school, so father finally consented.
Player won quickly upon turning pro in 1955 at the East Rand Open in South Africa, then decided to make the first giant step ' a trip out of the country to play in Egypt at the Egyptian Match Play. Accompanying him was another man who would gain much fame, Harold Henning, and Trevor Wilkes.
 
Players father once again went to the bank for a loan to finance the trip ' for 600 rand, about $250. He also lent Gary a nice pair of slacks ' Harrys own. The tournament was in the middle of summer in Cairo, but Gary was obliged to wear a heavy pullover. The pants, you see, were too big. Player wore the sweater to conceal the fact he wore the pants up under his armpits, the excess flannel tucked under his belt.
 
Oh ' the $250? It was repaid quickly. Gary won the tournament and with it a check for the equivalent of $1,200, big trousers and all. He was 19 years old, he was a professional tournament winner, and he won the South African Sportsman of the Year Award from the Rand Sportswriters Society.
 
The floodgates had been opened. Player quickly followed with wins in 1956 at the South African Open ' his countrys national championship , repeated at the East Rand Open and won for the first time in England. When he was invited to Australia, he became a world traveler. He won the Ampol Open in Australia, then placed a call back home to the girl who had become his sweetheart ' Vivienne Verwey. Calling from a pay phone, Player told her to get ready for a wedding. And on Jan. 19, 1957, at the age of 21, he and Viv were married.
 
It was about that time that Player made his way to the course at St. Andrews, Scotland, for his first tournament there. Arriving late in the evening, he discovered that all the hotels were full.
 
So-o-o, he said, I walked out onto the course, put on my rainsuit, and slept down in a bunker. It certainly wasnt comfortable, but I didnt have much of a choice.
 
Player would never again have to sleep in a St. Andrews bunker. He would win more than 175 victories worldwide, including a number of them at St. Andrews. The boy had grown into a young man, and he was about to become a world icon.
 
Related Links:
  • Gary Player's Career is One Big Highlight, Part 2
  • Gary Player's Bio
  • Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

    Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

    By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

    Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

    “I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

    Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

    According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

    Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

    Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

    “He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

    Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.