100 World Class South Africans: Gary Player

2013-05-07 12:00

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A golfer and a gentleman

A super-achiever and perfectionist who helped make golf a global game. The self-styled ‘original jetsetter’ – no one has clocked up more air miles (over 15 million) than he has, a fantastic if frivolous record in its own right.

Add to that 165 tournament wins, 18 Majors (on both the regular and senior Tour), honorary doctorates and countless awards (for design, racehorse breeding and his charities), and it’s clear there’s no one quite like Gary Player.

He’s a health and fitness icon; he was working out with weights long before other golfers did (emulated by Tiger Woods today).

His disciplined regimen has kept him competing into his 70s; that’s more than 50 years as a pro golfer.

At the height of apartheid, he brought black tennis pro Arthur Ashe and golfer Lee Elder to play in SA.

He’s designed more than 320 golf courses worldwide, and The Player Foundation has raised over $50 million dollars for impoverished children, from Colesberg to Tamil Nadu to Baoshan, China.

Samuel L Jackson, Ronan Keating and Jackie Chan have played in his four annual fund-raising Gary Player Invitational tournaments.

It’s a long way from the guy who left South Africa to play in his first Open at St Andrews in Scotland and, as he told The New York Times last year, couldn’t afford a room the first night, so he slept on the beach where they filmed Chariots of Fire.

Befitting a legend, Player also coined one of the most famous phrases ever: ‘The harder you practice, the luckier you get.’

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