The death of Nelson Mandela on Thursday was felt worldwide, including in the golf world.
Mandela, the former South African president, Nobel Prize winner and human-rights hero, who was 95, has a European Tour event named after him. That tournament, the Nelson Mandela Championship, is co-sponsored by the Sunshine Tour and set for next week in South Africa – and its schedule has been adjusted.
To honor a national day of mourning and the state funeral for Mandela on Sunday, Dec. 15, the Mandela Championship will be played Wednesday through Saturday in Durban, the tours announced. The tournament benefits the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
Also is in South Africa this week, the tours co-sponsor the Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, where a moment of silence was observed before play began Friday.
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Gary Player, Hall of Famer and South African
Speaking Friday at the European Tour’s Nedbank World Challenge, Gary Player recalled a “tearful” first encounter with Mandela and kissing the former political prisoner’s feet. Player had been invited to meet Mandela at his office in Johannesburg after the anti-apartheid leader’s release after 27 years in prison. But he didn’t expect to do what he did, Player said.
“I knelt down and I kissed his feet and I said, ‘I have never kissed anybody’s feet in my life,’ and I said, ‘I have so much admiration for you.’ I said to him, ‘It is remarkable, how can you not have revenge?’ “
Mandela’s reply, Player recalled, was: “You have got to start a new life and forgive and go ahead.”
Player, speaking at the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, said Mandela’s ability to inspire with compassion left him amazed then — and still does.
“It was very tearful for me, because when you think of a man that has gone to jail for all those years for doing the right thing, not the wrong thing, it is hard to comprehend that a man can come out and be like that,” Player said. “He was an exceptional man.”
From that first meeting, Player and Mandela would cross paths regularly as the golfer, one of South Africa’s greatest sportsmen, worked with the president on charity projects. Although Player wasn’t sure if he ever saw Mandela swing a golf club, he knew that the anti-apartheid leader “realized the value of sport” and even followed Player’s career overseas while he was imprisoned by South Africa’s former racist regime.
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Ernie Els, South African golfer
One of South Africa’s first sporting heroes under Mandela’s presidency, Ernie Els summed up: “It is going to be a tough day for the whole country,” before sharing his memories of the leader and activist.
Els said that since about 1996 and well into his old age, Mandela used to call the golfer every time he won a tournament.
“They were special times and the little time we had together was very special. He was just the most amazing person I have ever met,” Els said.
He also recalled Mandela partially ignoring him on a long-haul flight because the statesman instead wanted to talk to and play with Els’ young daughter.
“We were sitting up front and then Mr. Mandela came onto the plane last,” Els said. “He was sitting in the front seat and he saw me and my daughter sitting next to me and all of a sudden he didn’t really want to see me anymore, he wanted to talk to my daughter. He got Samantha to go up there and she sat on his lap and he spoke to her like she was his grandchild.”
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PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem
We share the world’s mourning of Nelson Mandela’s death. We had the honor and privilege of meeting Mr. Mandela during The Presidents Cup 2003, when he attended the opening ceremony and graciously made himself available to meet individually with the players. It was a memorable week and his mere presence helped elevate the stature of the event. We truly feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet such a great man.
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Tiger Woods, host of this week’s World Challenge
From his tournament in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Tiger Woods recalled meeting Mandela 15 years ago.
“It’s sad. It’s sad for everyone who got a chance to not only meet him, but I’ve been influenced by him,” Woods said. “I got a chance to meet him with my father back in ’98. He invited us to his home, and it was one of the inspiring times I’ve ever had in my life. It’s a sad day for many people around the world.”
Woods recalled “a great lunch” with Mandela and stopped short of recounting the entire story. “But he certainly had an impact on my life and certainly my father, and I think that time frame in which – when he came out, the country could have fallen apart. It could have gone a lot of different ways, and he led it to where it’s at now, and the world is going to miss him.
“I don’t think any of us probably here could have survived that (27 years in prison) and come out as humble and as dignified as he did, and to lead an entire nation and to basically love the world when he came out, I think that’s a testament to his will and his spirit and who he was.”
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Here’s how other members of the golf community reacted, some referring to Mandela by his Xhosa clan name of Madiba, to the breaking news via their Twitter accounts.
• Charl Schwartzel, pro golfer from South Africa (@CA_Schwartzel): A very sad day!! South Africa has lost an amazing man. Rest in peace Mr Madiba
• Trevor Immelman, pro golfer from South Africa (@TrevorImmelman): RIP Madiba. Thanks for being such a fantastic leader and role model for us all. pic.twitter.com/oJ1MS2NG0u
• Gary Player (@garyplayer): Condolences to all on the passing of our beloved Father of the South African Nation, Nelson Mandela. Madiba we loved you. Rest in Peace
Player: “Sport has the power to change the world. To inspire, to unite people & speak to the youth in a language they understand, Nelson Mandela RIP
Player: Nelson Mandela’s courage, forgiveness, love & hope inspired people around the world. He made me want to be a better man. RIP Tata
• Greg Norman, Hall of Famer (@SharkGregNorman): My thoughts & prayers go out to Pres Nelson Mandela’s family on his passing today. One of the greatest humans I ever had privilege to meet.
• Ian Poulter, pro golfer (@IanJamesPoulter): Just heard that Nelson Mandela has passed away. Really sad news. Madiba May you rest in peace. What an inspirational man. #HugeRespect #RIP
• John Hahn, pro golfer (@_JohnHahn): Mandela: Respect what you stood for- how you had morals in an immoral world. Will be greatly missed
• Donald Trump, golf course owner (@realDonaldTrump): Nelson Mandela and myself had a wonderful relationship–he was a special man and will be missed. http://instagram.com/p/hjm8QMmhYF/
• Lorena Ochoa Reyes, former LPGA player (@LorenaOchoaR): #RIP #NelsonMandela sin palabras para describir todo el aprendizaje que nos dejó uno de los grandes luchadores sociales de todos los tiempos [translated: “no words to describe all the lessons that one of the great social fighters of all time left us”]
• Christina Kim, LPGA player (@TheChristinaKim): After a life of fighting for equality, Nelson Mandela is able to finally rest. Be at peace, you changed history.
• Suzann Pettersen, LPGA player (@suzannpettersen): RIP Nelson Mandela #inspirational #RoleModel
• Karin Sjodin, LPGA player (@karin_sjodin): Can’t think of a better time to re-read this one. A great book by an AMAZING man! #Mandela pic.twitter.com/mjmczeHrU3
• Carly Booth, LET player (@carlybooth92): RIP Nelson Mandela you will be missed greatly!
– Jim McCabe and Associated Press contributed