Hes Gary Player. And at nearly 70, hes still hitting drivers a shade under 250 yards.
Player stood on the edge of the driving range at the Champions Tours Hickory Classic last week and laced a succession of fairway woods on a straight line over bunkers 220 yards distant. His swing was flat, Hogan-esque, and repeated itself time after time. His 155-pound frame moved easily into the ball, almost without effort.
How far would he have hit drives in his prime in say, 1965, if he had the same equipment as he does today? If I average 250 today, I would have averaged 285 back then, said Player.
Its the head, the shaft, the ball and the agronomy. They are all so much better. No, I would probably have hit it 50 yards further in my heyday. Larry Nelson says (he) hits the ball 50 yards further, and many guys hit it 50, 60 yards further.
But advancing age has robbed him of strength, and all the workouts and exercise in the world wont give that back. Hes lost the equivalent of about three clubs distance off what he had in the 60s ' if he were using similar, high-tech equipment then and now. But he still has a goal ' and he thinks it is an achievable goal.
I love playing golf, he says. I'm trying to be the first person in America to ever win in six decades. Im still athletic enough to win. I haven't been playing particularly well this year, but golf changes in a matter of seconds, minutes. You can find something, and I'm still a very good putter and I can still play reasonably well. I've got an outside chance to do it.
Player concedes it is a 1-in-100 chance, maybe 1-in-a-1000, but its still a chance. His best finish this year was a tie for 24th in the Outback Steakhouse tournament in Tampa. He finished at 4-under par. To win, he probably needs to finish at least 10-under.
His last victory on the Champions Tour came six years ago, at the rather advanced age of 63. He has steadily been chalking them up, though, on the Georgia-Pacific Grand Champions ' a category of the Champions Tour reserved for players aged 60 and over. He already has 11 of those, the last coming a couple of years ago in 2002.
He does it, he says, because its what he was raised to do. And nothing has prepared him to experience people like the travels of a professional golfer.
I'm not only going to continue events like this, I'm going to continue the tour, Player says. I love people, and I love travel. I find it - well, it's without a question the best education that one can obtain, better than any college degree or university. I enjoy traveling and I'm designing a lot of golf courses, over 200 golf courses around the world, visiting a lot to mainland China, Poland, Bulgaria, a lot of countries that I never went to to learn their traditions. In Qatar, in the Middle East, you learn an awful lot, and I love it.
I'm very pleased I played when I did play because I mixed more than the average man in the street. I mixed in at country clubs and had dinners and I dined with the members. I had a different life, and I'm pleased I came along when I did.
Player won 24 times on the PGA Tour. And he has won 53 times in his world travels. But even he says that, to win again on the Champions Tour, that seems a little far-fetched.
The rest of the world has no idea just how tough it is to win on this Champions Tour, he said. You've got a short window to do it. You've got a maximum of eight years to do it. And when I tell people that, they think I'm a bit nuts.
Most people probably would agree that his sanity is a bit suspect when he mentions winning in the seventh decade of life. Player realizes it, too. But dont ever think that the idea is off the charts in his mind. Gary Player has faced more unbelievable obstacles. And, he has overcome them.
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