My Shot: Gary Player

Take it from the man in black: Rats save lives, caning isn't all bad, and we make our own breaks.

Gary Player

Gary Player, May 31, 2002, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

October 2002

Age 66,
Johannesburg, South Africa

I've studied golf for almost 50 years now and know a hell of a lot about nothing. Why did Jack Nicklaus, the greatest player in history, change his swing every other week? We're always chopping and changing. Golf is a puzzle without an answer.

I was practicing in a bunker down in Texas and this good old boy with a big hat stopped to watch. The first shot he saw me hit went in the hole. He said, "You got 50 bucks if you knock the next one in." I holed the next one. Then he says, "You got $100 if you hole the next one." In it went for three in a row. As he peeled off the bills he said, "Boy, I've never seen anyone so lucky in my life." And I shot back, "Well, the harder I practice, the luckier I get." That's where the quote originated.

You can tell a good bunker shot by the sound. From powdery sand, you want a "poof." From coarser sand, it should sound like you're tearing a linen sheet in half. Strive to make the right sound, and you'll be surprised at how fast you improve.

The worst single food in the world is bacon, because it is pure animal fat. But I have a piece on occasion. I'm not a martyr.

It's true: You are what you eat.

They say Arnold Palmer gave me the 1961 Masters by double bogeying the 72nd hole. In fact, Arnold wouldn't have had a chance had I not double bogeyed the 13th hole and bogeyed the 15th. Writers and historians place too much emphasis on the last hole.

The U.S. Amateur is a major championship — for amateurs. I'll leave it at that.

A golfer chokes because he fears being exposed for something less than he really is.

I've flown more than 12 million miles, certainly more than any other golfer, and I think that's more than any human being in history, including pilots. I've spent four years of my life sitting on airplanes.

First I recline the seat. Then I stuff two large pillows where my lower back goes. I place my briefcase under the seat in front of me and put my feet on it. My body describes almost a straight line, like I'm reclining on an ironing board. I drink a bottle of mineral water, put in my ear plugs, and in a minute I'm gone. I go to sleep at takeoff and don't wake up until it's time to land.

When you're flying, it helps to be 5-feet-7 and 150 pounds.

My dad went to work in the gold mines when he was 13. They toiled 12,000 feet below the surface. It was backbreaking, dangerous work. I went to visit him one day, and when he came off the "skip" — the elevator that lowered them into the mine — he immediately sat down. He took off his boot and poured water out of it onto the ground. I asked him where the water came from, and he said, "Son, that's perspiration. It's hot as hell down there." He told me how men died like flies in those mines. He said a miner's best friend was the rat, because when the rats took off running, it meant a cave-in was imminent. Every day the workers gave the rats bits of their sandwiches as tribute. All this makes me look at my gold Rolex watch differently than most people.

When I was small my mother would take me to tea with her in Johannesburg. "Pull out the chair for Mrs. Wilson," she'd say. "Remember to remove your hat indoors. ... Don't reach for the sugar, ask someone to pass it." She was very big on manners.

My mother died of cancer when I was 8 years old. The deprivation was hard on me. Many years later, long after I'd reached adulthood, I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing, dreaming of her and missing her so much. Deep inside, we all want and need our mothers.

I have one barometer to gauge advances in equipment. There's a sprinkler head near the bottom of the 10th fairway at Augusta National that is 182 yards from the center of the green. For years, a really good drive would put me 10 yards past the sprinkler head, from where I could avoid a downhill lie. This year, at age 66, playing a tee that is farther back than the old one, and hitting to a fairway that has been soaked with rain, I hit it 15 yards past the sprinkler head. Between the modern ball and titanium drivers, we're hitting the ball 50 yards farther than we did 40 years ago.

Tiger or Jack, one six-foot putt, for my life? I'll take Bobby Locke. I've seen them all, and there was never a putter like him. In the 100 or so competitive rounds I played with him, I saw him three-putt just once. He was equally good on Bermuda, bent or bare dirt, and the length of the putt was almost irrelevant. You had to see it to believe it.

My local caddie at the Masters was Eddie McCoy. When I arrived there in 1978, Eddie was upset. "You got to win this tournament, man. I'm in trouble, and I need a new house." I don't know what kind of trouble Eddie was in, but when I came from seven shots behind to win on Sunday, you've never seen a man as happy as Eddie was. There's a picture taken just after I holed a 15-footer on 18. In it, you see Eddie flying toward me like Batman, with an expression on his face as though he'd just won the lottery.

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