My Shot: Gary Player

Continued (page 2 of 2)

One of my heroes is Lee Kwan Yu, the former prime minister of Singapore. He took a nation that was in dire straits and turned it into a vibrant society with a thriving economy. People do not lock their cars or their houses in Singapore. There is no possibility of children being exposed to drugs. Your daughter can walk down the darkest alley without a care in the world. No security guards anywhere, no burglar bars on anything. Now, the penalty for drug trafficking is death. I'm fine with that. The punishment for defacing a $30 million building, or a beautiful bridge, with spray paint, is caning. Some people think caning is severe, but I'm for it. It all comes down to what you're willing to pay to live in freedom and peace, without fear.

I've raised thoroughbred horses for 35 years. There was one stallion we named Wagga Wagga after a town in Australia. Not all horses are nice, and this one was one mean hombre. A TV film crew asked me to pose with Wagga Wagga. I grabbed his bridle and gave it a sharp jerk to show him who was boss. That's what you do. The camera guy asked me to take a step forward and smile, and like a fool I did. Big mistake. Just like that, the horse lifted his foreleg and brought it down across my back. His hoof just brushed the nape of my neck. One inch closer, and I would have been paralyzed or maybe killed. That was a close call.

I took my caddie, Alfred (Rabbit) Dyer, with me to the 1974 British Open. It was the first time a black man had ever caddied in the Championship. I told him, "Make sure you wear your badge here, Rabbit. They're very strict, just like at Augusta or the U.S. Open." Rabbit looked around at the sea of white faces around him and shrugged. "Don't worry about me, boss," he said. "I stick out here like a fly in buttermilk."

There was a weather warning at the Masters one year. Lots of lightning. I was standing on the 11th tee when they sent vans out on the course to evacuate the players. As I got in, I thought, "My, that's considerate of them." My next thought was, "Yeah, but what about the 40,000 spectators?"

You don't spend as much time outdoors as I have without having a lightning scare. A bolt hit a tree 25 feet away from me once. Knocked me four feet in the air. The bark from this big gum tree was blown 80 yards away and was stuck into a fence. It left a three-foot hole in the ground at the base of the tree. When I hear thunder, I'm gone.

Good vision is underrated. Your eyes influence everything in golf. I wish my eyes were in as good a shape as the rest of my body; it's my only sign of aging. In my business, three yards might as well be a mile.

The best way to break out of a slump is to pretend you're a player whose swing is rhythmic and beautiful. I fell into a terrible slump in 1973, and I recovered just that way. I watched Christy O'Connor at the British Open and stamped his sing-song swing on my mind. For the next few months I actually pretended I was him. The following April I won the Masters, then took the British Open in July.

Protesters of South Africa's apartheid policy gave me grief for a couple of years. I didn't believe in apartheid and I surely wasn't responsible for it, but I was a ripe target. They threw crushed ice in my eyes. Hit me with telephone books at the top of my backswing. Threw balls on the green while I was putting. Burned awful statements into the greens where we were playing. I got death threats at my hotel every day. At the 1969 PGA Championship, a guy screamed just as I stroked a 10-inch putt, and I missed and lost by one.

At Merion, during the 1971 U.S. Open, we kept guns in the house where I was staying. I struggled through it, and you know something? It's easier to fight than to run away.

It was a tough two years. But Nelson Mandela, who spent over 20 years in prison, had it a whole lot worse.

I used the same blade putter almost exclusively for more than 35 years. Won over 100 tournaments and the Grand Slam with it. Arnold Palmer and I were walking through a Ginza store in Japan, and I bought it for $5. I had it reshafted, regripped and spray painted black many times, and it almost never failed me. Then one day, a tiny little piece of lead tape I'd placed on the rear of the putter at the outset fell off. I stuck on a new piece of tape, but the putter was never the same. So I put it in a display case for my museum.

Given a choice of being stranded on a desert island with Wagga Wagga or a negative, miserable person, I'll choose the horse.

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