Hall of famer Gary Player is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of golf. He’s just one of five players in the world to win all four majors – The Masters Tournament, The U.S. Open, The Open Championship, and The PGA Championship – winning nine majors altogether during his professional career. He also won the South African Open 13 times, the Australia Open seven times, and the World Series of Golf three times (1965, 1968, 1972), logging in with more than 160 victories worldwide over his lifetime. He has played golf with every president in the United States over the last 70 years, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2021 and has played in more celebrity tournaments than I can list.
He is also a renowned golf course architect, designing some 400 projects worldwide, with many acclaimed among the Top 100 Golf Courses in the World. He has written or co-authored 36 books on golf instruction, design, philosophy, motivation and fitness, established a foundation for young players and supports a number of worthy charities through golf events that raise staggering sums for their causes.
He hails from South Africa, is a part-time Florida resident and is at home anywhere in the world his travels take him. I read somewhere that back in the 1960s when he first started his career, he would travel from tournament to tournament with his entire family in tow, which at the time included his wife, six children and their nannies. With all the extra expenses he incurred, he had to win tournaments just to break even. Soon he was just breaking records. There was no place he wouldn’t play and there was no place he couldn’t win.
Given his love of the game and the road, it’s not surprising that, along with the countless other titles of accomplishment bestowed upon him over the years, Gary Player has been called the most well-traveled athlete ever.
Which brings me to the conversation I had with him this past September when we met for breakfast at the world-renowned GlenArbor Golf Club. Excited and admittedly nervous to be dining with a bonafide legend overlooking a course he designed and played on, during a celebrity golf event that was uniquely personal to him, I was reassured by one of his associates that Gary would take the lead.
And that he did.
From food to fitness to favorite places and famous faces, Gary Player shared his thoughts with me in an honest, humble and open way that belie his amazing accomplishments in each category.
88 years young, he has been traveling around the world for 73 of them, learning about different cultures, religions and governments, rubbing elbows with presidents, royals and local villagers, and loving every minute of it. Fresh off a whirlwind schedule of flights that took him from the US to Australia and back, then on to India, back to America, then off to the Bahamas and Europe, before returning to the US for our breakfast date, he told me that after his charity golf event, he was jetting to Thailand, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa, then coming back to the States again. This grueling epic itinerary with back-to-back travels across the continents would be difficult for anyone, but not for this 88-year-old super star.
“That’s amazing,” I replied after he shared his travels plans with me. “Now I know why you are known as the world’s most traveled athlete.”
“Forget the athlete,” he said. “It’s the most traveled person. I travel continuously across the globe.” To do that requires a stamina not many people have without getting sick, he explained.
“The amazing thing is that I’m so healthy today.”
Looking more like a man in his 50s or 60s than an octogenarian, I asked him how he stayed so young and fit.
“Portion control is a big part of it,” he said, adding “the smaller the portion, the better” and a diet that avoids some of his favorite foods, bread, bacon and ice cream among them. He eats just two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, and says the secret to longevity and health is to undereat. Exercise, sleep and laughter are also a big part of his regimen, as is keeping your mind busy.
“You’ve got to keep your mind sharp and exercise your mind and body,” he shared. “I exercise extremely hard and I‘ve tried to watch what I eat. It’s not easy when you travel. I don’t drink or smoke. I’m doing everything to keep my weight down,” he told me, adding a reference to the 100 race horses he owns. “When they race, they’re the greatest athlete on the planet.”
Like his horses, Gary Player races around the planet, designing golf courses, representing different companies and their products, attending exhibitions, speaking to myriad audiences, talking to young people on the importance of a great education. “I love young people. I love to try and get them on the right course in life because there are so many unhealthy and dangerous distractions now. Drugs are big thing that we have to do more to stop from pouring into this country.”
He is also doing his part to protect the environment, planting trees on golf courses to fight pollution, and save water, advocating for the use of wastewater water on golf courses where it is filtered by sand and naturally cleaned.
He’s passionate about education, very astute on the political front and believes that our leaders need to do more to unify our countries instead of dividing them.
Then there are his philanthropic ventures that are very near and dear to his heart.
Changing lives of people who are underserved and deserving is what really drives Gary Player to outperform over the epic journey that has been his life. Growing up in a poor family in South Africa set him on a course to make the world a better place for present and future generations.
“Here’s the beautiful thing about golf, that people are unaware of your readers. It’s the greatest catalyst at raising money for the underprivileged. Yes, in the world. It raises more money than any two other sports combined. This week, we will raise $700,000 for pancreatic cancer. That’s incredible. Next week we have Marguerite Playa, my late wife Vivian’s charity. We raised last year $700,000 for these African American children and other children down in Florida where I went and presented the money to them.”
“Changing the lives of people is my legacy. And everybody says, you know, Gary, you’ve won the most tournaments in the world of anybody today. You’ve won the grand slam. You have won more national titles than Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus together. You received the Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States. But that’s not my legacy,” he explained.
“My legacy is raising money to change the lives of people that don’t have much because I was one of those people.”
He shared that professional athletes have the money and star power to raise awareness and help the less fortunate, a calling he wishes more of his fellow athletes would take on.
After my breakfast with this champion, I know I was inspired to follow the course he is setting all over the world for a better tomorrow. ☐