Gary Player special: I slept on the beach at St Andrews

Gary Player on 'unique' challenge posed by St Andrews, his favourite Open win, Grand Slam glory, Rory, Jordan and Tiger

Charlie Lemay's picture
Wed, 15 Jul 2015
Gary Player special: I slept on the beach at St Andrews

Gary Player won three Open Championships in a stellar career which yielded nine majors and put him in the Big Three alongside Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.  

The South African legend gave GolfMagic an exclusive insight into all things Open and golf.

What are the specific challenges of the Old Course, particularly in July?  

Now one thing that avid golfers will know, but many do not realise, is that the Open Championship at St. Andrews is different than any other Open Championship.

At St Andrews you do not have to hit it straight. All other Open venues, there is a great premium on driving well. The fairways at St Andrews are wide and quite generous.

Ken Brown's keys to the Old Course

There also are only two par threes and depending on the pin placement, they can turn into extremely difficult holes that can change the outcome of the tournament.  

Where does St Andrews rate against other Open venues – in terms of appeal, challenge and quality of course?   

To put it simply, it is one of the greatest golf courses in the world. It is the birthplace of golf and still to this day is one of the most special golfing destinations in the world.

The design was truly ahead of its time. When you step onto the grounds of St Andrews, you can feel the rich and timeless history that includes the origins of this great game that has been a blessing in my life.  

What does winning the career Grand Slam mean to you and describe how difficult it is to achieve?

Winning the career Grand Slam is perhaps my finest achievement in golf. It is hard to believe that it has been 50 years since my win at Bellerive Country Club in 1965 to win the US Open and the Grand Slam.

What I remember so vividly to this day is how hard I practised for that particular tournament, and my preparation paid off.

What were your feelings going into the 1965 US Open with the Grand Slam on the line and what was on your mind as the week went on?  

I was focused. Jack Nicklaus convinced me to come practise with him the week before the tournament. I wanted to say, 'No, I need to play a tournament in Greensboro, I have a family to feed'. But I went anyway, and boy I am glad I did. Even though we wanted to beat each other, he actually played a significant role in my winning. I made sure to keep to the same routine, even heading into the play-off. I prepared so much for this tournament, I truly believed I would win.  

Given what they are like as players and characters, who do you see as ending their careers with more majors, Rory or Jordan? Why?

Right now, Rory McIlroy is the best player in the world. That swing he has is going to help him win a lot of major championships. In my opinion he has the best all-around game. He just needs to stay healthy.

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But I have said the best putter in the world is the one who is going to win tournaments and majors. Right now, that player is Jordan Spieth. Only God knows who it will be five years from now. But Jordan is wise beyond his years on and off the golf course. He has proved that this year. Obviously, these two are the future of golf.   

What do you make of Tiger Woods in 2015? What is your advice to him in his 40th year? How likely is he to win another major?

Golf needs Tiger Woods to win tournaments. Not just tournaments, majors. Another win at a major for Tiger will have a more positive and significant impact on the game of golf than anything else that could happen this year.

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He needs to get back to the basics that made him the best player in the world for so long. He still has so much talent. We all want Tiger to start winning again. 

You were very critical of Chambers Bay and you teased the TV commentators a bit – how do you reflect on that US Open, the course, and the things being said about it?

It was just my opinion of the golf course design and set-up that particular week. I thought Greg Norman did a good job in the booth, and wished him congratulations on his success. Overall FOX will get better every year no doubt.

Perhaps because I am always so positive, that when I am not, it gets more attention than it deserved. Most players and spectators agreed with my observations. With more changes the golf course will also get better over time.

What is the hardest major to win and why?  

The first major is always the toughest. It relieves so much pressure during the rest of your career. After my win at the Open in 1959, I believed that I could win any tournament I entered. The mental game is so important to winning majors, if you can get the first, anything is possible. 

Claret Jug at St Andrews is golf's holy grail

Which of your Open victories gave you the most satisfaction and why?   

My victory at Muirfeld was so special because up to that point I was the youngest player, at age 23, to win the Open Championship since it became a 72-hole event.

It made me want to practise even harder and longer to reach my full potential because at that point I was not the best player I could become. But I believe it gave me to confidence to accomplish my goals for the rest of my life.  

What is the strangest thing that has happened to you during an Open Championship?

Sleeping on the beach during my first Open Championship at St Andrews in 1955. Can you imagine if a pro today did that today? I arrived at Leuchars Station not knowing where the hell I was, but two pros picked me up and dropped me off at the Old Course. When I realised I didn’t have enough money to stay in a hotel all week, I put on my waterproofs and went to sleep in the dunes.   

If there was one shot or moment in your career you could have again, what would it be?

I try not to dwell on shots that are in the past. It is important that every player knows to become a champion you have to be able to take that double bogey and move on to the next hole.   

How do you compare the game of today for the modern pros with all the latest equipment compared to your day?  

It is completely different. Golf balls travel longer with each season’s technology upgrade and the shafts and club heads improve at the same pace. So, golf courses became so much longer, which require much more upkeep and water for irrigation.

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It’s terrible for the environment. What needs to happen sooner rather than later is officials should regulate and scale back the golf ball to control the distance. Then we won’t have to lengthen courses.

Looking back on your career, would you say you overachieved or underachieved?  

I finished in the top 10 in more than 40 major championships, but I only won nine. I won more than 165 tournaments worldwide, but entered countless. I have always been satisfied with my career because of the time and effort I put into my profession. I’ll let you decide the over or under.   

What is your motto in life?   

The harder you practise, the luckier you get.