Top 10 moments of Gary Player's career

Top 10 moments of Gary Player's career

Professional

Top 10 moments of Gary Player's career

Just last week, Gary Player turned 82. In honor of the Black Knight’s Nov. 1 birthday, Golfweek‘s Jeff Babineau sat down with Player to talk a variety of subjects. Here’s Part I. And Part II.

This week, Player is hosting the European Tour’s Nedbank Golf Challenge, the penultimate event of the circuit’s 2016 season. While we have Player’s thoughts covered, what about the best moments of his career? With Player hosting in his native South Africa, it seemed like as good a time as ever to celebrate the Black Knight’s best moments in his golfing career.

Here are the top 10 Gary Player moments in golf.

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Well, this may not have occurred during Player’s heyday, but we had to put it on the list.

Aces at the annual Masters Par-3 Contest aren’t scarce, but let’s not pretend they are easy to find. Especially for an octogenarian.

But at this year’s contest, Player came to Augusta National’s par-3 course’s seventh and found gold. With this magical strike, the then-80-year-old became the oldest player to score a hole-in-one in Par-3 Contest history.

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The over-50 career of Player tends to go unnoticed. But he won 19 times on the PGA Tour Champions, including the senior circuit’s career Grand Slam (at least its career Grand Slam at the time).

Player also won the career Grand Slam on the regular circuit (more on that below). At the time of his champions Grand Slam, he was the only player to hold both career grands slams, and that was a source of much pride.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m the only man on the planet that’s done that,’ ” Player once said. “It just gives you goose pimples because in my life, nobody had achieved it.”

• • •

Everybody had to start somewhere. In the major championships department, Player did so at the 1959 Open at Muirfield.

The then-23-year-old arrived at the course 10 days early and actually missed the birth of his first child (daughter Jenny) to be there. If that doesn’t show you dedication, four years earlier, Player slept in the dunes at the Open because he couldn’t find a cheap room.

Anyway, at the ’59 Open, he would double bogey the 72nd hole and thought he had blown his chance. Turns out, it didn’t matter. He would win by two for his first major title.

• • •

The 1974 British Open wasn’t really in question as Player reached the 72nd hole. He was well ahead and he was the sure victor.

Still, when his ball came to rest next to a building beyond Royal Lytham & St. Annes’ 18th green, he was in a bit of a pickle. The right-hander had no stance to hit the recovery shot naturally, so he had to go leftie.

Using a putter well over the green left-handed with a building inches away, Player pulled off a miracle.

He would miss the ensuing putt, but that’s a moot point. The left-handed shot goes down as one of the most memorable moments in closing out a major.

• • •

Player, being non-American and non-European, was never eligible for any Ryder Cup festivities. But he also once famously noted, “The things I have seen in the Ryder Cup have disappointed me. You are hearing about hatred and war.”

So when Player captained the International team at the 2003 Presidents Cup, he wasn’t going to fall into the same trap. In a tight contest, the U.S. and Internationals ended up tied, going to a sudden-death playoff to decide the action.

But in the one-on-one extra holes between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, neither had budged before darkness descended.

Now, a tricky decision had to be made. Would they come back tomorrow to finish? Should the Cup end in a tie? If a tie, does the U.S. retain the Cup?

After talking it through, Player and U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus (along with their teams) came to the agreement that the Cup would be shared in a true tie. This remains one of golf’s most iconic moments of sportsmanship.

• • •

10. Player becomes oldest golfer to make hole-in-one at Masters Par-3 Contest

9. Winning the Career Grand Slam … on the PGA Tour Champions

8. Player captures his first major at the 1959 British Open

7. Player’s incredible left-handed putt next to building to secure the 1974 British Open

6. 2003 Presidents Cup tie

5. Player’s dedication to physical fitness

OK, not really a moment, but… the South African is a legendary workout fiend, still in recent years purporting to do 1,000 or more sit-ups and push ups every day (except when he’s traveling).

Here’s a Black Knight gym session in action:

Some more.

• • •

4. Player becomes first international winner of the Masters

It’s now been 55 years since the first international won the Masters, with Player earning that honor in 1961.

In an unlikely manner as well. Defending champion Arnold Palmer (who had also won in 1958) came to his ball in the 72nd fairway one shot ahead of Player and seemingly destined to go back-to-back.

Then Palmer did the unthinkable: double bogeying from the middle of the fairway. After Palmer tapped in for six, Player was the Masters champion.

• • •

3. 1972 PGA Championship 9-iron “greatest” shot

The 1972 PGA Championship, and Player’s sixth major title, was slipping away as he made back-to-back bogeys at Oakland Hills’ 14th and 15th holes to drop to a one-shot lead.

And then he hit his tee shot at the 16th into deep rough. With a willow tree in his way and a pond fronting the green, he faced a next-to-impossible approach. That is until Player hit an incredible towering 9-iron that ended up 4 feet from the hole for birdie. He would sink the putt and earn a two-shot victory for his second PGA Championship and sixth major.

• • •

2. Winning the career Grand Slam

Only five players have won all four majors in professional golf. So yeah, there’s no way Player doing so wouldn’t be high on this list.

He actually did it BEFORE Jack Nicklaus, too. The Golden Bear accomplished the feat at the 1966 British Open, while Player got the job done more than a year earlier.

It came at the 1965 U.S. Open, where Player actually blew a late three-shot lead to fall into a playoff with Kel Nagle. Player rebounded in the extra 18 holes the next day to take the title and the career Grand Slam.

“It meant so much,” Player told Golfweek in 2015. “I was a young man, and I saw Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan had won this Grand Slam. I said, ‘Geez, I want to do that, too.’ ”

What did he do to celebrate the win? Why, only give his entire $25,000 first-place check to charity ($20,000 to junior golf, $5,000 to the American Cancer Society).

“I am a foreigner here,” Player told Sports Illustrated directly following his win in 1965. “The American people have treated me so well I wanted to give something back.”

• • •

1. 1978 Masters comeback

A 42-year-old winning the Masters is stunning enough. Doing it after being down seven strokes through 54 holes? No way.

Except, Gary Player accomplished that. The Black Knight scorched Augusta National with seven birdies in his final 10 holes to post a final-round 64 punctuated by a 15-foot birdie putt at 18.

He had a good chance to win when he entered the clubhouse, but it only became official, though, when Hubert Green unbelievably missed a 3-foot birdie putt to force a playoff. (Start at 2:34 video to witness all of the comeback.)

Certainly a dodged bullet, but regardless, one of the greatest comebacks in golf history, and maybe the greatest considering Player’s age. It was the South African’s ninth, and last, (non-senior) major title. What a way to go out.

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