Gary Player is 80 and credits fitness for him to feel 40
When Player, who celebrates his 80th birthday Sunday, turned professional more than 50 years ago, the idea of exercising and lifting weights in golf was largely confined to the 12-ounce curls that were a part of the post-round experience.
Dumbbells were for dummies, he often heard.
“My favorite example is not from a fellow golfer, but from a famous golf architect,” said Player, when contacted via email.
“I will not mention the name, but one day he saw me squatting with 325 pounds the night before the U.S. Open. And there was quite an article that Gary Player will never last.
“When I went on tour in 1963, I mentioned his name and I said, ‘I hope you’re noticing this, I’ll be joining you in heaven one of these days, make sure there’s a good golf course and a good gym with lots of weights.’
Player made it clear he was chuckling at the memory.
“Looking back on the attitudes of golfers toward exercise, I am very proud to be the first to have helped changed their mindset, ” Player said.
“Golfers were not really thought of as athletes even just a few decades ago. Now, they train like athletes do in other sports like rugby. Tiger Woods and now Rory McIlroy are great ambassadors for promoting fitness in golf. The PGA Tour even has a traveling gym. We have come a long way from when I had to go to the local YMCA.”
Player, who was just 5 feet 6, 150 pounds, began playing golf at age 14 and had turned pro by 17. He won his first pro tournament in 1955 at 20, his first PGA Tour title coming in 1958 at the Kentucky Derby Open. Throughout that period, Player was ahead of his time as he traveled the world.
“In the early part of my career, people thought I was an absolute nut for training with weights,” Player said. “But I stuck to my workout routine even during tournaments, and it paid off big time. Training the way I did gave me an edge no one could top because I knew I was in the best shape of anyone on tour. That was a big part of my mental game. The critics said that Gary Player will not last as a professional golfer past age 35. I think I proved them wrong.
“My fitness and proper diet are the reasons I have been so successful. If I didn’t take care of my body with a strict regimen that I still practice today, as well as eating proper food, I might be dead. I am turning 80, but feel 40.”
As for his best tip, Player keeps it simple when it comes to weight loss and continued health. “That’s easy, ” he said. “Eat less, drink water and exercise more!”
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