PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Gary Player likes to proclaim that nobody in the history of the world has traveled more than he. Sixty years into his career as a pro golfer, he’s dined with presidents, prime ministers and premiers, the British royal family, alongside sheiks in the Middle East and with townspeople in the villages of Africa. He considers himself to be a blessed man.
Wednesday afternoon at The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, Player was bestowed the PGA Tour’s Lifetime Achievement Award, joining a list of recipients that includes pals Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer as well as Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and former President George H.W. Bush.
“You talk about a journey,” he said. “I was thinking this morning, I even played golf with Gene Sarazen, the first man to win the Grand Slam, and I played with Tommy Armour as well. A long, long time ago. And to have played with Hogan and Snead, and Arnold and Jack, and the young players of today, it’s been a real long journey. It’s so nice to be my age today, 76, and be beating my age by almost 6-7 shots a day. It’s quite a game.”
Who’s the best player he’s ever seen? Easy. Hogan. Player first played alongside Hogan at the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa. Player said the rough was a foot high that week and Hogan’s ballstriking was so sharp that he never ventured into it. “Had you given him this equipment, these metalhead drivers, these grooves, this ball, these fairways, these jets, this prize money,” Player said, “it would be frightening to see just how good that man would have been.”
In a project for Forbes, Player on Tuesday joined PGA Tour player Billy Horschel at The King and The Bear golf course near the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine and played a round using the equipment of three different periods. The two played six holes with hickory-shafted clubs; six holes with the equipment of Player’s heyday in the ’60s and ’70s; and then finished the last six using today’s equipment. Player enjoyed the experience. They even donned the wardrobe of each era.
Player said the hickory clubs had “a big shammy grip, like a broom handle, and it was like hitting a club with a sock on it.” He added, “I went home to my wife and said, ‘Now I know just how good Bobby Jones was. I always knew he was good . . . but didn’t realize he was THAT good.”