Gary Player wary of the Old Deal (and possibly your breakfast order)

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pennsylvania. – Of course, Gary Player could have ceased to be one of the golf mascots traveling the world long ago.

Now 86, he has 160 wins, including nine major championships, and millions of dollars in his account. But the Player, who made his career in Grand Slams when he was 29, never seemed to stop, never willing to surrender to age, resentment or siren songs about his personal life or retirement.

And then one spring afternoon, dressed almost entirely in black as always, he was merrily loitering around the Aroniminck Golf Club near Philadelphia, speaking his mind, signing autographs, and playing the game that made the young South African man incredibly famous.

But one of his favorite stretches of the year will be this week’s British Open, in which he has played a record 46 straight games. The 150th edition of the Open kicks off Thursday at Old Field in St. Louis. Andrews, which the Player first visited in 1955 when he failed to qualify for the tournament.

In a May interview in Aroniminka, where he won the 1962 PGA Championship and still plays when he is in the area to visit his daughter, Player reflected on the state of the Open Championship and the sport, and, of course, the physical him on courses even in his ninth decade.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You named the British Open your favorite major. Why?

The British Open is the world’s greatest championship. I think the US Open is second, the PGA is third and the Masters is fourth.

So why?

That’s where it all started and it’s the game we all love and adore and what it has done for us in our lives, whether you’re a pro or an amateur.

But the Open Championship is a mental challenge like no other tournament. Remember that because of the field you start sometimes at 6:30 am and the last start time is 4 hours.

So you play in the morning, you play in perfect weather, and you average 72 goals. During the day the wind picks up and it rains, and you score 74 points, which is your best result of the year you played. so good. So it tests you more, much more than any other tournament, in not feeling sorry for yourself, going in there, loving adversity and understanding that if I can overcome it, I really am a world champion.

I will never forget my trip to St. Andrews was my freshman year and thought, “What a shitty golf course.” But it was immaturity, my ignorance of the game.

You slept on the dunes during your first show in St. Louis. Andrews trip, right?

I’m leaving South Africa with £200 in my pocket. It’s my total asset in the world and now I have to play in the Tour and if I don’t play well, come home – not like today when you have a sponsor and the guys are making millions and millions.

I arrive at St. Andrews. I don’t have a hotel reservation. So I go to these hotels – £80, £90, £100. I said I’ll sleep on the beach. It was a great evening, right where they were doing Chariots of Fire. I went and lay down on the beach in waterproof clothes. I wake up the next day and find a room for ten shillings sixpence, and there I sleep.

It was right across from 18th Lawn. Now I’m on the first court and I’m very nervous, and the starter says: “Play, boy.”

Ray Charles can’t miss this fairway, it’s so wide, okay? So, I get up, I catch the ball, it goes out of bounds, hits the stake, comes back.

When I leave, he says, “What’s your name?” I said, “My name is Gary Player, sir.” He says, “What’s your fault?” I said, “No, I’m a professional.” He says: “Are you a pro? Laddie, you must be one hell of a stick.”

Time goes by, I’m coming back and now I’m the youngest person to win the Open. And he sees me: “This is a damn miracle! Actually, man, it’s a mirage. I can’t believe it’s you. You won the Open!”

You have never finished higher than seventh at the Open at St. Andrews. What do you think St. Andrews as hard as it is?

Wind or rain, or whatever the conditions are, and stay away from bunkers, which are fatal. When you get into these bunkers, you just get out. You don’t take an iron 4 and knock it out like you can do in South Africa or America.

And then you have a green that is so big it looks like a double green.

My God, it’s hard to judge second shots.

Considering how long people have been hitting, do you think the Old Deal is irrelevant or moving towards irrelevance?

It. It’s a tragedy, but it’s not the golf course’s fault; it is the fault of our leaders. Our leaders let the ball go too far.

You must have some vision of life. In 30-40 years they will be hitting the ball for 500 yards.

You know, on the second hole in Augusta, they hit the iron 8 on the green. Jack Nicklaus, if you gave him this equipment and let him take the first hit in his prime, he would have hit as far or as far as most guys. The best thing he ever did was 5-iron.

So it’s mocking that.

Can you afford to do what Augusta does? Keep going back and buying land? No. And is it necessary? No, and it’s a waste of money. Youth should receive money to improve golf and facilities, and give African Americans a chance to live in urban areas. They should teach children how to get the opportunity to play golf.

But no, that money is wasted because the tees are now longer, more irrigation, more fertilizer, more machinery, more labor.

It seems to annoy you.

It’s on fire. It destroys me. A guy like Bryson DeChambeau could drive on the first lawn. He will definitely lead the third. He’ll hit seven or eight greens in the tournament.

Seven? On the most famous golf course on the planet?

All I pray is that during the Open they will have some wind and some rain. Otherwise, they will destroy the golf course.

So if the course is becoming a mockery, R&A should continue to hold the Opens in St. Louis. Andrews so often?

Yes, because you do not want to foolishly lose what is so well known – the greatest world championship.

You faced protests in the 1960s over your apartheid views, from which you later distanced yourself.

When you lived under apartheid, like me, you have no idea, the youth does not. It was like living in Germany. If you said anything when I was a young man about the government, you could get what they called a 90 day prison.

You were scared.

But people protested.

In 1969, I played the PGA in Dayton, Ohio, and they threw phone books at the top of my swing, threw ice at my eyes, threw balls between my legs, screamed when I swung back. They all did this to me to get to the South African government because I was the world champion.

Do you think Phil Mickelson will face the same blow for taking the Saudi Arabian steps in golf?

He could never come to terms with it to the extent that I can. I had it in most places in the world, and if I didn’t have it all, I could have won more big tournaments.

In Augusta this year, you go to the press room after we opened the golf course. They asked a question about Phil Mickelson. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus didn’t say anything. But no, I’m not going to be like that. Silence in the face of evil is evil.

So now there’s Phil Mickelson, the greatest PR man ever in golf. He was ostracized because he said something in secret to the person who is writing the book. Wrong he said something that we all do.

We all deserve a second blow. We say in our prayers: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive them.” Do we stick with it? Not!

Given this public attitude, do you think there is a way for Mickelson to be publicly redeemed?

The American nation is a nation, more than any other nation, that forgives. They’ll cheer him up to the limit, guaranteed. If he doesn’t, I’ll be shocked because he deserves it.

Rory McIlroy couldn’t play in St. Louis. Andrews in 2015 due to injury. Is it his time?

Rory McIlroy today is the most talented golfer in the world. Whether you use talent and do it effectively depends on it. He is not up to the level of his abilities. He’s won four majors now, but with his ability, he should have won six by now. It should be much better.

But Ben Hogan – the best player ever to play the game – only won his first major championship at 34, so Rory is in its infancy. But everyone, as we now live in the world, wants instant delivery, but in life this does not happen.

I’m a big fan of Rory as far as his future is concerned. I don’t know if he’s nervous. I can only comment on the golf course.

He’s so strong and he’s in such good shape and he’s a good person.

Collin Morikawa had an amazing Open last year. Do you consider him one of the dominant faces in the game in a few years?

Throughout history, you have always had someone who has dominated. Ben Hogan was the best I’ve ever played. Then came Jack Nicklaus. Before that it was Bobby Jones. Then came Tiger Woods.

I can’t tell you who is the best player in the world right now. Nobody guarantees that he is the best player in the world; he can say that he one from the best players.

Why are you still playing? Is it for fun? For a physical experience? To compete with yourself?

I love people and I learn something from everyone I play with.

I tried for years to beat my age by 18 shots. I fired 17 shots six times. Once I had it in my hand – I couldn’t help but do it – and I, frankly, choked. It was the first time I really experienced adrenaline on the golf course after winning the British Open or the Masters.

But I play Donald Trump with my friends and I shoot 19 younger than my age. I go out the next day and shoot 18 younger than my age and yet for years I have tried to achieve this. [Asked whether Player had joined Trump for a round and scored a 67, a spokesman for Trump, Taylor Budowich, replied: “He did, and President Trump was equally impressed.”]

I dream of repaying America for what she has done for me.

I want people to say, when I die, “Gary Player, damn it man, he taught me how to take care of my body.” This is a holy temple. People in America don’t worry about health. Maybe two percent – I’m kind – are malnourished, exercising, laughing and have immense love in their hearts.

And yet, what is the most important thing in your life? Your health. People just eat themselves into the grave. I didn’t have breakfast today.

What did you have today?

I had a hamburger without a bun. I don’t eat a bun. The bun is shitty. With the same success, you can eat green grass.

I don’t eat bacon. I don’t drink milk. I don’t eat ice cream. I love ice cream, I love bacon, but I swore to God that I would never eat it, because if I want to live long, it takes effort, work, dedication.

With all that in mind, what did you film today?

74. If I have a bad day, I am 75.

I have overcome my age more than 2400 times in a row.

Do you fear the day when you won’t be able to do it, or do you think that day will never come?

Age is everything. If you are well-read and smart enough, you should accept these things.

What comes to your mind when you visit St. Andrews now?

Gratitude.

I mentally go back to 1955. Sixty seven years! Many people do not live to be 67 years old.