The year 1957 marked Gary Players first year as a truly international figure. He played in his native South Africa, winning again ' of course ' but he also played in locales as diverse as Australia and the United States.
It was in Australia that he played Aussie Peter Thompson, who was then on a run of winning the British Open four times in five years. Player won in a dramatic duel, 2-and-1, over 36 holes of match play at the age of 21.
And he made his debut in the U.S in 1957, playing in nine tournaments, making the cut in all nine, and placing third at the Greater Greensboro Open. The first time he played in America ' the Azalea Open ' he made a whopping $16 and change. To this day, he has the check framed in his office to remind where he has come from.
Player won for the first time on the U.S. tour the following year, 1958. That came in Lexington, Ky., at the Kentucky Derby Open, noteworthy in that Player would become a noteworthy owner of champion thoroughbred horses himself. He shot four rounds in the 60s to win. But he also had two runners-up that year and finished in the top 10 in nine of the 14 events he played.
One other event of prominence popped up on his 1958 resume ' he played his first U.S. Open. The first two rounds he was paired with the great Ben Hogan at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. And he didnt flinch ' after four days he was second only to Tommy Bolt, even though he was only a 22-year-old youngster.
In 1959, Player achieved notoriety as one of the worlds best when he won his first major ' the British Open ' as a 23-year-old. He prevailed at Muirfield, shooting a 75 the first day, then surging back to shoot lower each day. His scores were 71, 70 and 68 as he won by two strokes over Fred Bullock and Flory van Donck.
The staff, management and personnel at the hotel where Player was staying were so pleased that they baked a huge cake. They played Sarie Marais, a South African song, when he returned to the hotel and had a grand celebration.
Player won the Transvaal Open in South Africa by an incredible 17 shots over second-place Harold Henning, his old buddy who had accompanied him on his first journey outside South Africa. And by the next year, 1960, Player had taken over domination of the South African Tour from Bobby Locke, who had been the dominant figure on the tour during the previous decade.
The Masters of 1961 was a landmark. Arnold Palmer by all rights had it won. As he was walking to a perfectly placed drive on the final hole, he stopped momentarily to accept congratulations. But that threw him off just enough to send his approach shot sailing into a bunker.
His third shot was skulled across the green and into the rough. By the time he finally got the ball into the hole, he had recorded a double bogey. And there to win his first green jacket was Gary Player, the first international to prevail. Player was just 25 years old, but he already had two majors.
It's a point of contention that people say Palmer lost - Player double-bogeyed the 13th and later had a bogey, but he still fought back to win.
The year 1961 was important for several reasons. Though Palmer was in the middle of his glory years, the fact is that Player might well have had the better year. Palmer won the U.S. Open, was second in the Masters and tied for fifth in the PGA, but Player won three times in America, finished in the top 10 an astounding 20 times, and was the leading money winner. And ' oh yes ' he also had the tours leading stroke average.
Player played in 28 American tour tournaments, the most he ever played. It very nearly was one more.
That was because Palmer had a chance to beat him out of the money title in that last event. Player placed a call to the tournament office in Mobile, Ala., where Palmer would have had to beat Doug Sanders to unseat Player. But Sanders shot 65 the final day to win, and Players position was safe.
In 1962, Player got the third leg of the Grand Slam when he won the PGA Championship at Aronimink Golf Club. His score of 2-under 278 was good enough to defeat Bob Goalby, while a 22-year-old Jack Nicklaus finished in a tie for third. Player was the second non-American to win the PGA, and he once again led the PGA Tour with the lowest stroke average. As a matter of fact, his stroke average was the lowest in the world, for the second consecutive year.
Player finally became the third player in the world to capture the Grand Slam when he won the U.S. Open in 1965, at the age of 29. It was Players fourth major in seven years, and the one that put him over the top at Bellerive in St. Louis. He had a struggle on his hands to win, going to an 18-hole playoff to win by three strokes over Australian Kel Nagel.
I think the most pressure I ever felt in golf was in winning that U.S. Open, he would say.
Sam Snead never won the U.S. Open. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won the PGA. Lee Trevino never won the Masters. Getting that fourth one just seems so difficult.
But Bellerive might have been the best I have ever played in the majors. I hit everything so well.
Player responded with a most unusual gesture when he won the U.S. Open. He donated his entire winners check to The Cancer Association ' in memory of his mother, who died of cancer ' and the Junior Golf Association of the USGA.
I am doing this because I made a promise to Joe Dey (then the executive director of the USGA) five years ago, Player said. I am doing this to repay America for its many kindnesses to me over the past few years.
As his worldwide success continued, Player soon took his place with Palmer and Nicklaus in the Big Three television series of matches around the world. In addition, he returned every year to play in the major South African tournaments, including winning 13 South African Opens, 10 South African Masters and five South African PGAs. He also was highly visible in Australia, winning seven Australian Opens, two Australian Masters and an Australian PGA.
And his greatest triumph might have come in a tournament he didnt even win. That was at the 1969 PGA Championship at the National Cash Register course in Dayton, Ohio. Because of his South African citizenship, he was targeted by anti-apartheid demonstrators for direct harassment. It didnt matter that he has often spoke out against the apartheid philosophy, or that he is close friends with Nelson Mandela.
Protestors shouted during his swing and rolled batteries under his legs while he was on the green trying to putt. And through it all, with the massive amount of distractions, he finished only one stroke out of the victory celebration of Raymond Floyd.
They threw ice in my eyes, a telephone book in my back, he told Golf Digest. They yelled, Miss it! To finish second to Raymond Floyd by one shot ' I think it was my greatest tournament.
In 1971, Player proved what a humanitarian he is. Through his efforts and his pressure on the South African government, Lee Elder was invited to play in South Africas first multi-racial sports event. Player definitely deserved the credit he was given.
In 1972, Player hired black caddy Alfred (Rabbit) Dyer, who remained his bag toter for much of his pro career. Player won the 74 British Open, the first major-tournament winner with a black caddy.
The greatest shot of his career? That would be in 1968 at the British Open.
It was at Carnoustie, he remembers. Jack Nicklaus, Bob Charles, Billy Casper, Maurice Baimbridge and I were all within a shot of each other with about six holes to go.
Came the 14th hole, and the wind was blowing very hard. I could see the wind blowing the flag all over the place. I was playing with Jack and I hit this 3-wood one foot from the hole. I went on to beat him by one shot.
There are others. The PGA at Oakland Hills in 1972 was one. There were 10 of us within two shots of each other, he said. I hit this shot on the 16th hole over the trees. The flag was right by the water, and I put it in there about three feet from the hole. That enabled me to win the PGA.
And another? The Masters in 74 ' (Tom) Weiskopf and Dave Stockton and I came down the 71st hole with only one shot between us. I put a 9-iron inches from the cup. As I hit it, I said to the caddy, Dont even worry, we arent going to need the putter.
Another Player landmark occurred in 1974, when he was one of the original 13 inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame. And in 1978, he won three tournaments in succession ' the Masters, the Tournament of Champions and the Houston Open.
During that (three-tournament) streak, I was seven behind going into the final round of the Masters, seven behind going into the final round of the Tournament of Champions, and five behind going into the final round at Houston, Player said.
Going into the final rounds, I shot 64 at Augusta, 65 at the Tournament of Champions, and 64 at Houston. That was my best stretch of play ever (at age 42).
Late in 1985, Player launched a new career as a member of the Senior (now Champions) Tour. He won his debut, the Quadel Senior Classic, after his 50th birthday Nov. 1 just 21 days before the start of the tournament. Player came from behind to roar to a three-stroke victory.
He has won four legs of the Champions Grand Slam, winning the U.S. Senior Open, the PGA Seniors and the Ford Senior Championship. He has won the British Senior Open, now a Champions Tour major. Only Jack Nicklaus has won the four majors in the U.S. (the Tradition is included), but Nicklaus has not won the British Senior Open.
Player shot a 64 at the BellSouth Senior Classic in 2000, at the time the youngest man to shoot his age in tournament history. And in 1998, he became the second oldest to win on the Champions Tour, claiming the Northville Long Island tournament just two months shy of his 63rd birthday.
He entered this year with 163 tournament victories all-time, including 24 on the U.S. tour and 19 on the Champions Tour.
I have always tried my hardest, Player says. I have never given up. If I can win an extra $50, I get great joy in doing it. I will never give up, never play just to be there.
Player lists his greatest accomplishments in the three decades before the age of 50:
50s ' 'Winning the British Open for the first time;'
60s ' 'Won the Masters for the first time; also, Arnold Palmer and I battled it out, out to last tournament in 61, and I beat him to finish leading money winner. Won the U.S. Open in 65 and 68;'
70s ' 'Won the PGA in 72, won the British Open and Masters in the same year (1974), won three tournaments in a row in 78.'