Don’t get him started
At age 79, Gary Player certainly doesn’t lack passion or opinions
RIDGEDALE, Mo. — Some interviews are easier than others.
Like having a chat with Gary Player. Ask one question and your job is basically done. Just sit back and enjoy.
Player has more opinions than an editorial writer for the New York Times, and he’s not shy about sharing them.
For the record, the question was: “How’s the game?”
He took it from there. Player’s one-man show covered his golf game, Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth and the overall state of the game, the fabulous Big Cedar/Top of the Rock facilities, America, his health, and the health of America.
“I still keep my golf game going, because I love the game,” Player says during an interview with Missouri Golf Post on Wednesday. “My game’s just not what it used to be. I’ll play a few more tournaments with Jack (Nicklaus), and that will be about it for the year.”
Which is not to say that Player, 79, will have much down time. The native of South Africa still lives on a 3,500-acre ranch in his native land — a ranch he calls “the smallest in the country” — where he grows crops and raises thoroughbred race horses.
In addition, he designs golf courses — he’s designed more than 300 courses in 35 countries, and is currently working on another layout in the Branson area.
This week, Player is teaming with Nicklaus at the Champions Tour’s Legends of Golf, which is a unique two-man, 54-hole, better-ball tournament, sponsored by Bass Pro Shops and Big Cedar Lodge. The tournament runs Friday thru Sunday.
“Jack and I have been great friends for more than 50 years,” Player says. “He’s perhaps the greatest gentlemen I ever played golf with. When you play well, he looks you in the eye and says, ‘Well done,’ and he genuinely means it.”
Nicklaus, arguably the greatest player of all time, had more than a two-decade run as the game’s most dominant player. Tigers Woods carried that torch for about 15 years but now, seemingly, it’s being claimed by 21 year-old Jordan Spieth, the 2015 Masters champion.
“Jordan Spieth is refreshing,” Player says. “He is a champion, he’s well-mannered, he shaves every day, he dresses well, he speaks well, he doesn’t throw clubs, he doesn’t swear … he’s just the perfect young man for the young people of America to follow.
“This is a most wonderful young man.”
“Professional golf is very healthy, the amateur side isn’t so healthy. They’re making the golf ball go too far. The committees see these pros hitting a driver and a wedge to a par 5, so they make all their courses longer and more difficult. It’s an unnecessary expense and the members don’t like it, so they resign.
“We need courses for members and ladies that are playable, no bunkers in front of greens and no crazy, undulating greens. We should want them to come out and play well and enjoy themselves, not play in a torture chamber.”
Win or lose this week, Player knows he’ll enjoy his time as he competes at Buffalo Ridge and Top of the Rock — the latter is a nine-hole, par-3 course — along with his stay at Big Cedar Lodge.
It is, Player says, simply the best.
“I’ve traveled more miles than any human being that’s ever lived and I’ve seen a lot of incredible places in my life,” says Player, who’s the most traveled athlete in history, anyway, at more than 15 million miles. “But what Johnny Morris has done here, with his vision and his ideas of decorating, he has something that I think is the best in the United States.”
Morris is the founder of Bass Pro Shops, Big Cedar Lodge and most recently, the breathtaking 462-acre spread that is Top of the Rock, which overlooks Table Rock Lake.
“He’s got a development here that’s about so much more than golf,” Player says. “You’ve got fishing, you’ve got hunting, you’ve got trails, you’ve got museums, you’ve got wooden cabins … it’s the most magnificently developed resort I’ve ever seen.
“In all the world, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s a wonderful place to bring your children and your family, to get away from the big cities and the drugs and this type of stuff that’s taking place.
A place to get away from the “stuff that’s taking place” … to be sure, life in the United States happens.
“I’m not going to be critical of America, that’s not my position. I love America, it’s the greatest country on Earth. I have three children and many grandchildren who are American citizens.
“Family, faith and hard work are the things that made America great. Now, we have all these computers and gadgets and it’s a different world. But is it a better world? That’s a debatable issue, isn’t it?
“I see these people on television stepping on the American Flag and I think, ‘Wow.’ And this lady went out to stop them, she was 12 years in the military, and they arrested HER. They arrested HER.
“I just don’t understand.”
Don’t get him started.
“I went to my grandson’s college in Philadelphia to talk to these young boys who wanted to play golf. The coach told me not to be too tough on them because if he was too tough, the Dean was going to be on his butt and the mothers will come along and say you’ve been very cruel to my little boy.
“So I said to them: ‘Guys, I’m here today because I love you and I want you to do well in this country. So I asked them, and I wanted simultaneous answers from all of them:
“‘Do you have a TV? Clothes, food, school, air conditioning, a car?’ I went through the whole list. Then I said: ‘Dammit!!!’ That gave them a shock and I said: ‘Most kids in the world don’t have ONE those, not one.
“So I said: ‘How can you guys beat somebody from China, India, Africa … you have to be very talented to beat somebody who works harder than you. Because these guys are hungry, they have a passion. Do you?”
Obviously, Player doesn’t lack passion. And while he’s almost 80, he doesn’t even look 60. His Fountain of Youth secrets are no secrets at all — exercise and diet.
“Two days ago, I pushed 410 pounds with my legs, did 1,300 crunches, a couple of hundred with a hundred pound weight on my chest, I ran on the treadmill. But I think that eating is the most important thing. I don’t eat bacon or ice cream or many milk products, and I’m trying to be a vegetarian (for the last 13 years) and it’s made me feel a lot better.
“Everybody’s getting overweight, everybody’s having heart attacks, cancer, diabetes. Nobody worries about exercise or diet, and the body is a holy temple, it’s the most important thing in your life. It’s the best investment in your life and nobody invests in it. I find this very interesting.
“It’s just a pity for me to see in America that 25 percent of the youth are obese, 55 percent or more of grown ups are obese, because this is the greatest country in the world. And you’ve got to have a fit nation to be able to take on China and India and Russia and Europe and all these developing countries.
“And everybody lives on pills. You see an advert (advertisement) on television that tells you to take this pill and that pill, then they give you seven reasons why you shouldn’t. More people are dying from the medicine than they are the disease.”
Take a breath here.
Okay, there was actually one last question.
“Gary, is there anything you DON’T have an opinion on?”
“Very little, I suppose.”