5 Things: Player's fitness pledge

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Gary Player

Sit up and take notice.

Gary Player turned 75 on Nov. 1. At least that’s what it says on paper. The body says something else.

Ask the fitness freak how old he feels and he says, “I would say, realistically and honestly, that I am 40.” When the answer raises two eyebrows, Player responds, “I knew you’d get a shock on that.”

Shocked, no. Inspired, yes.

Nothing much Player does or says surprises anymore. But listen for a few minutes and you might be motivated to run to the gym and eat fruits and vegetables four times a day.

Before Player became a teenager in South Africa, his older brother, a soldier heading to war, told him, “I might not come back. If you want to be a sportsman, promise me you’ll exercise until the day you die.” The kept promise has lasted more than 63 years, a stretch Player figures is a record among athletes.

When Player lifted weights in the early 1950s, “everybody said I was a nut.” He says he still has newspaper clips proclaiming he’d never last as a golfer.

Nine major championships later, consider that prediction debunked.

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Justin Hicks, welcome to the PGA Tour.

The big winner at the Nationwide Tour Championship partied with a few buddies, even as the four-hole playoff unfolded nearby. Lucky his final-hole gaffe didn’t spoil his season, Justin Hicks soaked in the moment Oct. 31at Daniel Island. He finally was promoted to the big league.

“It tastes pretty sweet right now,” said Hicks, 36. “But there were a lot of knots in my stomach maybe 30 minutes ago.”

On a day so unpredictable that reporters and players took turns scanning the projected standings behind the scoring tent, Hicks was the last player to punch his ticket to the PGA Tour. Coming after a three-putt bogey on the 72nd hole was only fitting. And that he edged No. 26 Scott Gardiner by $2,100 made it all the more intriguing – and agonizing – for those enraptured by the final-round drama.

“I’d like to say today was a lot of fun, but it really wasn’t,” said victor Brendan Steele. “It was an absolute grind from the first tee shot until the end.”

••••••••••••••

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Boonchu Ruangkit

Fresh from his induction into the Asia Pacific Golf Hall of Fame, Boonchu Ruangkit is now looking to seal a sensational maiden European Senior Tour campaign by winning its money title.

The Thai is center stage at this week’s OKI Castellon Senior Tour Championship, which marks the season’s finale.

Boonchu scored victories in Brunei, Thailand and South Africa at the start of the year and more recently at the Benahavis Senior Masters, where he became the first player to win four times in his rookie season since England’s Carl Mason in 2003.

However, Boonchu’s winnings in Brunei didn’t count toward his total because he wasn’t a member of the tour at the time. South African Chris Williams could still claim the title with a victory this week at Club de Campo del Mediterraneo.

Boonchu withdrew from the Sicilian Senior Open after suffering a neck injury; that’s where Williams closed the gap at the top of the Order of Merit by finishing T-9. Boonchu said he’s back to full health now.

Williams trails Boonchu by a mere €39,259. With a first place sum of €64,433 at stake, this race could very well come down to a photo finish.

••••••••••••••

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Annika Sorenstam

Annika Sorenstam has taken the initiative to unearth future women champions in Asia.

The Swede is behind the first junior girls-only tournament to be held in China. The inaugural edition takes place on the Annika Course at Mission Hills in Dongguan in August 2011.

To be organized by Mission Hills China in collaboration with the Annika Foundation, the Annika Invitational at Mission Hills will be a 54-hole tournament open to junior female golfers of all nationalities aged 12-18, with a handicap of 24 and below.

The Annika Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2007, created the inaugural Annika Invitational in 2009 at the Reunion Resort in Orlando, Fla., home of the Annika Academy.

The Annika Invitational at Mission Hills will be similarly modeled and will see Sorenstam and staff equally involved with the junior golfers.

Said Sorenstam: “With Mission Hills, we have a partner that realizes and supports the foundation’s objectives to impart the importance of active lifestyle to children and offering opportunities for junior golfers. I hope that the tournament will leave a lasting legacy to develop future generations of female golfers here in China.”

••••••••••••••

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Raymond Russell

Three cheers for Scotland’s Raymond Russell. After four years of heartache, the 38-year-old is finally back where he belongs: on the European Tour.

Russell, winner of the 1996 French Open, lost his card in 2006 and has struggled to regain it. He spent a few seasons playing on the Alps Tour, a developmental circuit a rank below the European Challenge Tour, to remain competitive.

This season all his hard work paid off. He finished 19th on the European Challenge Tour to acquire one of the 20 cards for next year’s main tour.

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