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
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    Davies wins by 10 on 'best ball-striking round'

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 1:53 am

    WHEATON, Ill. - Laura Davies immediately recognized the significance of having her name inscribed on the first U.S. Senior Women's Open trophy.

    It might be a long time before anyone secures the title as emphatically as Davies did.

    Davies went virtually unchallenged in Sunday's final round of the inaugural USGA championship for women 50 and older, claiming the title by 10 strokes over Juli Inkster.

    ''It's great seeing this (trophy) paraded down for the very first time and I get my name on it first, you know?'' Davies said. ''This championship will be played for many years and there will only be one first winner - obviously a proud moment for me to win that.''

    The 54-year-old Davies shot a 5-under 68 to finish at 16-under 276 at Chicago Golf Club.

    It was the English player's 85th career win, and she felt the pressure even though her lead was rarely in danger.

    ''I haven't won for eight years - my last win was India, 2010,'' Davies said. ''So that's the pressure you're playing under, when you're trying to do something for yourself, prove to yourself you can still win.

    ''So this ranks highly up there. And obviously it's a USGA event. It's hard comparing tournaments, but this is very high on my list of achievements.''

    A 7-under 66 Saturday provided Davies with a five-shot lead over Inkster and what she said would be a sleepless night worrying about the pressure.


    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


    The World Golf Hall of Famer widened her advantage early Sunday when she birdied the par-5 second hole and Inkster made bogey. Davies said a par she salvaged at the 10th was another turning point.

    ''It wasn't the greatest hole I ever played, but I think that, to me, was when I really started to think I might have one hand on the trophy and just had to get the other one in there.''

    Inkster shot an even-par 73. England's Trish Johnson also shot 73 to finish third, 12 shots back.

    ''I mean, she was absolutely spectacular this week,'' Johnson said about Davies. ''I've played against her for 35 years. Yesterday was the best I have ever seen her play in her entire career.

    ''She just said walking down 18 it was best ball-striking round she ever had. Considering she's won 85 tournaments, that's quite some feat.''

    Danielle Ammaccapane was fourth and Yuko Saito finished fifth. Martha Leach was the top amateur, tying for 10th at 6-over 298.

    Davies plans to play in the Women's British Open next month, and called this win a confidence-booster as she continues to compete against the younger generation. She finished tied for second at the LPGA's Bank of Hope Founders Cup earlier this year.

    ''You build up a little bit of momentum, and a golf course is a golf course,'' Davies said. ''Sometimes the field strength is a little bit different, but in your own mind if you've done something like this, 16 under for four rounds around a proper championship course, it can't do anything but fill you full of confidence.''

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    Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

    SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

    Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

    ''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

    Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

    The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

    Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.


    Full-field scores from the American Century Championship


    ''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

    Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

    Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

    Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

    Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

    The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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    Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

    By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

    HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh hit a perfect approach to set up the winning playoff birdie. His celebration as the ball rolled into the cup was nowhere near as spectacular.

    Singh closed the door on Jeff Maggert on the second playoff hole to win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday, giving an understated fist pump as his birdie putt dropped from about 2 feet. It was the first major title on the PGA Tour Champions for the 55-year-old Fijian, a past winner of the Masters and two PGA Championships.

    ''It's a little different,'' Singh said. ''It's a senior major, you know, so it's - any time you win a tournament no matter what it is, you feel accomplishment, and that's what I feel. I feel like I played well, and it's a win. A win is a win.''

    Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268 at Exmoor Country Club. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

    Maggert began the day tied with McCarron and Bart Bryant for the lead. Singh was one shot back, but a crowd at the top of the leaderboard thinned out, turning it into a two-man race.

    ''I wasn't really watching the scoreboard or Vijay,'' Maggert said. ''Like I said, I thought I needed to shoot 5-, 6-, 7-under today to really kind of ice it. So I was really focused in on making seven or eight birdies today. ... You know, I thought some other scores would come into play there toward the end, but the last two or three groups looked like they were struggling, other than me and Vijay.''

    Singh and Maggert posted identical scores through the first 15 holes. But Maggert bogeyed 16, and then missed chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

    His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.

    ''We played toe-to-toe all day,'' Maggert said. ''He hit a nice shot on 18, and I had a chance to make a few putts throughout the day, but they just didn't go in.''


    Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players


    Singh made just one bogey this week, and that came in the third round. He had five birdies Sunday and made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

    His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But Singh blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par and send a senior major to a playoff for the first time since the 2015 Regions Tradition.

    Singh played sporadically on the over-50 tour during his first few years of eligibility but is playing more often against men his age these days.

    ''To win the first major on this tour, I'm really excited about that,'' Singh said. ''Winning my first tournament at the beginning of the year was big, and now I've won this one, so I look forward to winning a lot more now. I always say, the first one, you get the first one out of the way, you can win a lot more after that.''

    McCarron was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

    He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

    Bryant (72) and Kenny Perry (68) finished in a pack at 16 under. Illinois golf coach Mike Small (71) finished one shot behind them, while three-time champion Bernhard Langer closed with a 74 to finish at 12 under after starting the day two strokes back.

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    Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

    By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

    Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

    It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

    The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

    The week was more than nostalgic. 

    It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

    In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

    “I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

    Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

    “It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

    Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.


    Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open


    The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

    “It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

    Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

    “Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

    She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

    “Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

    At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

    With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

    This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

    “A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

    Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

    “It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

    In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.