Gary player: family, fitness and friendship by rhy waddington, executive chef at winged foot golf club
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Lee Trevino; they have all achieved greatness in the game of golf. But for me, one man stands high on a pedestal above them all. The Black Knight, Gary Player. Maybe it’s our Commonwealth connection, and maybe it’s his larger than life demeanor, maybe it’s his love of life, family and fitness or maybe, it’s because he’s given back more to the game of golf, than golf ever gave to him. Actually, it’s all of it.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Gary Player while he was attending the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Leading up to our call, I felt a sense of trepidation along with excitement as Mr. Player is someone who I have always admired. As soon as he greeted me by my first name, there was an overwhelming sense of normality and comfort, similar to that of seeing an old friend. It seemed that the most logical question to start with was, who was going to win the Open? “I like Jordan Spieth,” he says. “Because he’s the best putter in the world and it’s not too long a golf course but you know, he’s always saying he plays with his ‘B game’ or his ‘C game’. As long as he putts well he doesn’t have to have his ‘A game’, he can have his ‘B game’ - the way he putts, he can win.” Player also thinks Ricky Fowler has been knocking at the door to win a major, and Justin Rose has had a very comfortable year. He concludes with though “it’s hard to say Rhy, anybody can win it. It’s just one week and if you putt very well, you win!” (As history will tell it Mr. Player was spot on! Spieth won with a score of 12 under 3 shots ahead of countryman Matt Kuchar). As an Aussie, I joked with him that he hadn’t mentioned any of my fellow countrymen, Jason Day or Adam Scott. He laughed and responded that Jason and Adam have some of the best swings he’s ever seen.
Player then goes on to reminisce about his own fond memories of Australia. “I really enjoyed my time playing in Australia. I love the people and they loved me.
It’s some of the best golfing in the world, and I was very successful there, Rhy.” Player won the Australian Open a record seven times so it’s no wonder he has a love of the land Down Under.
Gary Player knows a good swing when he sees one. A 9-time major champion including the career Grand Slam (winning all 4 major championships); Gary is the only professional golfer to win the senior career Grand Slam as well. He recorded 168 professional wins all over the world with a bulk of those victories coming in 27 consecutive years.
Mr. Player’s love of fitness and nutrition has been a life choice, so to speak. He’s well known for his clean eating and won’t touch refined sugars or carbs. He recalls he was known as the “nut” when he first talked about healthy eating and started using weights back in his training sessions 65 years ago. “Honestly, they ridiculed me.” He recollects. “Even now some media presenters are talking a whole lot of hogwash about weight training. In my opinion Tiger played his best golf when he was fit and lifting weights.
Rory and Dustin are also working hard in the gym. However, working hard in the gym is only one portion of staying healthy, you need to eat properly. If you don’t work out in the gym or eat properly you can still beat these guys but you won’t last - you won’t have longevity in the game. I will give you a good example - Jack Nicklaus won major championships for 25 years, I won for 20 years and Arnold Palmer for only 6 years. Arnold was strong, a very strong man. But Arnold liked his cigarettes -he liked his drinking and he ate like crap and that had an effect on him and his life as he got older. The conversation then shifts to Player opining that it’s difficult to get people to eat properly. He believes most people eat well, but need to start eating properly and there stands the vast difference. Properly versus well. We as a society need to educate our children on the benefits of eating right, cut out the fast food and really eat right. Here’s a scary thought” he adds “A hundred million Americans will have diabetes in 40 years time”.
We shared our thoughts on the roll that corporate America and the broader global community needs to play to make any significant changes to the way we produce food, and the additives they add to either expedite production times or add to shelf life.
The corporate focus is, and has been on the potential profits opposed to the quality of the product that we are feeding to our children. The “young are almost preyed upon with advertising campaigns” he follows, “and there’s got to be change that is led by the government to make some of these changes so we lead healthy lifestyles.” We agree that although it comes down to the individual making a choice and following through with it, global food corporations need to take responsibility for the problems we are facing. According to Center for Disease Control, more than one-third US adults have obesity. Player then proceeds to tell me “The best advice I was given was in India by a very great professor. He was in his nineties, though he looked like he was fifty. His advice was, you must have a very intelligent breakfast and you must have a very intelligent lunch. It was really fascinating the way he said ‘intelligent’. Meaning a good balanced breakfast and lunch and then he said, no dinner. But sometimes you have to go out for dinner, so you just have a little bit of salad or a little bit of fruit. Don’t have bread – particularly white buns. I go to these luncheons and they put these white buns on the table – I wouldn’t give them to my dog! I would rather eat the napkin! I see people eating 2 or 3 of these things and they wonder why they are overweight and getting sick! Rhy I’m 82, I still have plenty of energy, I still beat my age by at least 10 shots. I’m still working out like a 30-year-old, traveling and working all over the world.”
Player’s message reaches far and wide with speaking engagements all over the world. But his concern for the future deepens when he visits the Universities across America. “The greatest country in the world and 90 percent of students are drinkers or smokers, this really, really, concerns me, this is the future of this phenomenal country,” he remarks. He does however understand that in today’s world it is getting harder to stay healthy. “You need to eat organic, non-processed food and you need to exercise like crazy, that’s the only chance you have.” Gary has traveled all over the world and experienced many types of cuisines and thinks Asia is way ahead of the US in terms of healthy clean eating. He thinks we could all learn from the way they eat. Less white bread, more salads and vegetables. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Mr. Player’s achievements on the golf course are well documented. However, this was not the only sport that he had natural talents in. Back in his school years he received full honors in rugby, cricket and half honors in hurdles and spring board diving. He also enjoys breeding thoroughbred racehorses (on the very successful Gary Player Stud Farm) and playing tennis.
We chatted enthusiastically about our love for the game of tennis and on the recent Wimbledon win for Roger Federer. “Roger is phenomenal. What a body he has! He will win well into his 40s he is that good. He is fit both physically and mentally he is strong. People say he is old. He is a young strong man who will continue to win.” This point of the conversation then sparks him to reminisce back to a time when he was on the senior tour at age 50. “I was as fit as a 35-year-old and mentally strong. I was the only one to win the grand slam on the regular tour and the senior tour. Nicklaus tried, Palmer tried, Trevino - they all tried, and I was the only one to do it. That was more of an achievement than winning the grand slam on the regular tour.” I can hear the sheer delight in his voice as he tells me, if not a little smirk too. His prediction for the next senior grand slam will be achieved by Bernard Langer. “Bernard is playing great golf and he is fit, lean and mean! I love the guy, love him!” he says heartily.
We move on to discuss the importance of the family dinner. For me the family dinner is one of the great platforms to learn how to communicate and show respect; a time to be grateful for the food we are eating and the company of our family; a time to reflect on the day’s happenings. Player agrees with me and then goes on to tell me “the one thing I’m very proud of is all my children have very good manners. They take their hat off when they talk to you, they look you in the eyes, they stand when a lady comes into a room. As someone once said, manners maketh the man.”
Family will always come first for Mr. Player. He recently had a family vacation with 40 family members in Thailand, and the year before they all went to Greece. “Every year I try to take all my family, a mixture of all races and colors, to some place around the world to continue family values and tradition.”
Mr. Player is and will be remembered as much for his stellar golf career as he will for his achievements off the course. No one has promoted the game of golf, no one has given back to his local communities in South Africa, and no one has been a better ambassador for educating our children to live a healthy life style as Mr. Gary Player. His energy for life is contagious, his passion for education unparalleled, and his relentless endeavor to create a better quality of life for generations to come is nothing short of inspiring.
~ by Rhy Waddington