SA golf legend Gary Player receives US Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump

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Gary Player (Getty)
Gary Player (Getty)

Golf greats Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Donald Trump in a closed-door ceremony on Thursday, a day after a mob of Trump supporters invaded the US Capitol building.

Trump also bestowed the award, America's highest civilian honour, posthumously on Olympic gold medallist and women's golf pioneer Babe Didrikson Zaharias.

Thursday's ceremony at the White House came a day after chaos erupted in the US capital, when a ragtag group egged on by Trump breached Capitol security and temporarily brought a halt to Congress's confirmation of Joe Biden's victory in the November presidential election.

Biden's victory was later confirmed by legislators and with Trump under fire for stoking the incident the award ceremony was held without the usual fanfare.

"Today, President Donald J. Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to Babe Zaharias," the White House said in a press release.

"The President also presented the award to previously announced recipients Annika Sorenstam and Gary J. Player."

South Africa's Player, 85, is one of just five players to complete a career Grand Slam, capturing all four of golf's modern major titles. In all he won nine majors and 24 PGA Tour titles.

Sweden's Sorenstam, 50, won 72 LPGA tour titles, including 10 majors.

Her dominant career also included a magical round of 59 in a professional tournament and an appearance in the PGA Tour's Colonial in 2003, where her determination to take on the men sparked debate and raised the profile of women's golf.

Zaharias was the first woman to play in a PGA Tour event, in 1935, and remains the only woman to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Her groundbreaking professional golf career came after an outstanding amateur sports career.

Her childhood prowess in baseball earned Zaharias, christened Mildred, the nickname "Babe" after Babe Ruth.

She excelled in swimming and basketball and at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics set world records in the 80m hurdles, javelin, and high jump on the way to two gold medals and one silver.

She pursued golf after her Olympic success, and her swaggering style and athleticism gave her 41 professional wins, with 10 victories prior to the founding of the LPGA in 1950. Her 36 professional titles on the LPGA Tour included 10 major championships.

Zaharias was just 45 when she died of cancer in 1956.

"Her towering legacy will shine forever in the history of American athletics," the White House said in a statement.

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