3-time Open Champion Gary Player earned his third and final victory in 1974 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. When he went to Royal Lytham in 1974, he had already completed the career Grand Slam and the main reason that he was still motivated to succeed was that he had had a tough upbringing which made him appreciative of everything he had in his life. He never felt entitled to anything and always believed that he should continue to try to succeed as much as possible.
1974 was the first year that the larger 1.68 inch ball was mandatory and Player determined that driving accuracy was more important than ever. He decided that he would hit a lot of 1-irons off the tee to keep the ball in the fairway and if he was going to make mistakes, he would make them on his approaches to the green. It is a misconception to believe that a player is a contender to win because he is a long hitter off the tee. While Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are long but inaccurate drivers, they are great on and around the greens and they prove to everyone that you truly do drive for show but putt for dough.
You have to be able to play a great variety of shots in The Open Championship based on where the pin position is on the green. When he was playing in the 60’s and 70’s, clubs had neither the technology nor the loft that they do so he had to improvise on certain shots from the bunkers and from around the greens. Today, with the lofts on the wedges, anyone can simply hit a shot and it will get the loft that it needs.
When asked about who is the best links golf player that he has ever seen, he said it was hard to say but did mention Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson although he added that Thomson used the smaller ball when he won his five Open Championships. Tom Watson is also an impressive links player but he noted that Bobby Jones won his Open Championships using golf clubs that hit the ball over 100 yards less than his own clubs.
The U.S. and South Africa are countries who have done a great job of nurturing golf talent among young people. It is amazing that South Africa has won 23 Major Championships in the post-war period and the reasons for that include great weather and great courses but most importantly, great junior golf programs. Young people in South Africa are taught not only how to play but also how to behave and they have been able to take those lessons around the world and inspire other people.