Gary Player, the 10th recipient of the PGA TOUR’s Lifetime Achievement Award, was honored at a reception Wednesday night at The Players Championship.
Player joins Gene Sarazen; Byron Nelson; Arnold Palmer; Sam Snead; Jack Burke Jr.; Pete Dye; Deane Beman; Jack Nicklaus; and President George H.W. Bush in receiving the award, which was announced in March.
“It’s very, very exciting,” Player told local reporters prior to the ceremony. “A lifetime [award] and I’ve had a lifetime in this game. I’ve been a pro almost 60 years. I’ve probably traveled more than any human being that’s ever lived around the world.”
While on stage, Player also held a sit-down chat with some of the current South African professionals on the PGA TOUR who have been influenced by him – Ernie Els, Trevor Immelman, Retief Goosen, Rory Sabbatini and Louis Oosthuizen. All but Sabbatini have won major titles, and those five have combined for 118 victories worldwide. (See photo below)
As for Player? He won nine major championships — including the Grand Slam by the time he was 29 — as well as nine senior major championships. In all, the diminutive South African collected 165 titles around the world, which include 24 PGA TOUR events and another 19 on the Champions Tour.
At the ceremony, Player thanked his wife Vivienne for her support, then added with a laugh, “Six kids, 21 grandchildren. I had to win just to break even.”
Player’s first major came at the 1959 British Open at Muirfield, the first of three British Opens. Two years later, he won the 1961 Masters, one of three Green Jackets he would earn. Player earned two PGA Championships and the 1965 U.S. Open where he beat Kel Nagle in an 18-hole playoff.
The 76-year-old Player was a fitness buff before it became fashionable and he credits his exercise regimen with his longevity as a player. He was 42 when he won his last major at the 1978 Masters, coming from seven strokes behind with birdies on seven of his final 10 holes.
Player, who is known for wearing all black, is part of golf’s The Big Three, along with Nicklaus and Palmer. He joined them in hitting the ceremonial first tee shot at the Masters this year.
Beyond the golf course, though, Player has been a crusader against apartheid in his native country. His philanthropic endeavors include building the Blair Atholl Schools in his nativeJohannesburg, which serve more than 500 students from kindergarten to the eighth grade.
Through his foundation, which was established in 1983, Player has raised more than $50 million to help educate poor children in rural South African, as well as provide nutrition and medical care. The Foundation holds a global series of fund-raising events on four continents — Asia, Europe, South African and theUnited States.
Player, who is an avid horseman and rancher, is also a well-respected golf course designer with more than 350 projects around the globe. Those courses have hosted well over 100 golf tournaments, including the 2003 Presidents Cup at the Links at Fancourt.
Player served as Captain of the International Team that year, the first of three stints facing his long-time friend Nicklaus. The Presidents Cup famously ended in a tie that year.