PROFESSIONAL GOLFER, GOLF COURSE ARCHITECT
Gary Player is a professional golfer, golf course designer, and marketer of golf-related products. During the peak of his career from the 1950s to the 1970s, he was one of the best golfers in the world. His golf career is also notable because the American Professional Golfers Association (PGA) was dominated by Americans during these years. Player was one of the first non-American and non-European golfers to both play and dominate on the PGA tour. Player was also one of the first to emphasize general fitness exercises for golfers and devoted parts of his golf lesson videos to general training and fitness.
Throughout his career, Player has been a global golfer, traveling an estimated 14 million miles to compete in tournaments and conduct golf exhibition matches all around the world. This globetrotting produced at least one tournament victory each season for 27 years in a row. Now 71 years old and with his tournament-level golf behind him, Player's career victory tally over five decades of competitive golf stands at 166, the best of any golfer.
Nicknamed "The Black Knight" for the intimidating all-black golf attire he typically wore, Player brought a fiercely competitive nature to his golf. This approach enabled Player to become one of golf's elite despite his small size of 5 ft 8 in and weight of 150 lb (1.7 m and 68 kg).
Player became a professional golfer in 1953, at 18 years of age. He joined the PGA tour in 1957. From then until 1985, when he began to play regularly on the Champion's tour (a PGA-sanctioned tour reserved for professional golfers aged 50 and older), Player won numerous PGA events. As well, he was victorious in nine of the so-called "Majors," including three Masters championships (1961, 1974, and 1978), three British Opens (1959, 1968, 1974), two PGA championships (1962 and 1972), and a U.S. Open (1965). The last major victory was especially memorable, as Player came from seven shots behind in the beginning of the final round of the 1978 Masters to win by a single stroke, recording a birdie on seven of the final 10 holes. A birdie is one shot less than par (the number of shots a hole is designed to be played in).
He is the first non-American to win the Masters; is one of a handful of golfers to have won more than one major in the same competitive season; and is one of only five golfers to have won all four of the major tournaments during their careers. Player's career grand slam was achieved by the time he was 29 years of age. Only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won more major golf tournaments. He is also the only golfer to have won the British Open in three different decades.
On the Champion's tour, Player proved to be no less competitive, winning his first senior tour event and going on the win 19 in total. He has amassed nine Senior Major titles, including the Senior Players Championship (1987), and three each of the Senior PGA championships (1968, 1988, 1990), Senior U.S. Opens (1987, 1988), and Senior British Opens (1988, 1990, 1997).
He was able to maintain a high level of play into his senior career, exemplified by his qualification for the final two rounds of the British Open (in 1995 at 59 years of age) and the Masters (in 1998 at 62 years of age). In a golf tournament, players who shoot better than a set score during the first two rounds "make the cut" and can participate in the final two rounds. Player made the cut at the Masters for 23 consecutive years.
His career earnings exceed $12 million. In 1961, he was the leading money winner on the PGA tour.
Player is now known more for his golf course design than for his tournament play. Over the past several decades, he has designed more than 200 courses around the world. He is also a breeder of racehorses.
Having grown up in South Africa when racial disparity was the norm, Player uses his recognition and international celebrity to promote racial equality in South Africa. He established The Player Foundation, which promotes education for underprivileged South Africans, in 1980. The foundation has raised in excess of $100 million. The foundation-built Blair Atholl School, located in Johannesburg, provides education to more than 500 students each year.
Among the honors he has received, Player was one of the original inductees to the World Golf Hall of Fame on its founding in 1974.
SEE ALSO Golf.