Player has won in five decades

Updated: May 16, 2003, 3:01 PM ET
By Mike Sielski | Special to

Signature Game
April 9, 1978 - Four years removed from his last major championship, Gary Player had breakfast with his agent, Mark McCormack, on the fourth day of the Masters. McCormack told Player he was leaving Augusta before the final round ended. "I don't have anybody in contention," the agent said.

"What about me?" asked Player.

"You have to be kidding," McCormack replied. "You're seven strokes behind."

He should have stayed. Player carded a 64 to tie the course record. On the back nine, he shot a 6-under-par 30, including birdies on three of Augusta National's most dangerous holes: the 485-yard, par-4 10th, and a pair of treacherous par-3 water holes, the 12th and 16th. When he rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at 18, the 42-year-old Player, who had entered the final round tied for 10th place, took the lead at 11 under.

Positioned to win his third Masters and become the tournament's oldest champion, Player then had to wait 45 excruciating minutes as Hubert Green, Tom Watson and Rod Funseth, all within striking distance, finished their rounds. Watson and Green, each at 11 under, bogeyed 18. Funseth, at 10 under, barely missed a 20-foot birdie putt.

Player, the champion, celebrated by playing another round with his 15-year-old son, Wayne. McCormack wasn't there to make it a threesome.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Player was on his high school's cricket, rugby, swimming and diving teams, captained the soccer team, and was voted the school's best all-around athlete.

  • Player's wife, Vivienne, was the daughter of the club pro at Virginia Park in Johannesburg, where Player learned golf.

  • Player's first pro victory came in the 1955 Egyptian Open in Cairo. His check was $1,200.

  • Player completed his career Grand Slam when he beat Kel Nagle by three strokes in an 18-hole playoff at the 1965 U.S. Open at the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

  • Only four other players -- Jack Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods -- have won all four pro majors.

  • Upon winning that 1965 U.S. Open, Player donated all his winnings to the U.S. Golf Association. Part of the money was earmarked for the USGA's Cancer Fund.

  • On the last hole of the 1974 British Open, Player hit the ball against the wall of the Royal Lytham clubhouse. Forced to play the ball where it lay, he hit it left-handed with the back of his putter -- and knocked it 10 feet short of the hole. He two-putted and won the tournament by four shots.

  • By winning the Masters, the Tournament of Champions at LaCosta, Calif., and the Houston Open in 1978, Player became the 10th man to win three consecutive events on the PGA Tour and the first non-American to do so since Bobby Locke, also a South African, in 1947.

  • Player finished in the top 10 in 35 majors and in the top three in 17.

  • In 1974, Player was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

  • Player won 24 PGA Tour events.

  • In winning the 1987 U.S. Senior Open at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn., Player went 31 consecutive holes without a bogey. His round scores were: 69-68-67-66.

  • From 1961 to 1987, Player used the same putter in every tournament.

  • Player's victory in the 1998 Northville Long Island Classic, which came two months before his 63rd birthday, made him the second-oldest winner in the history of the Senior Tour.

  • The 8-under-par 64 Player shot in the opening round of the 2000 BellSouth Senior Classic made him the youngest Senior Tour player to shoot his age.

  • Player has designed more than 100 golf courses around the world.

  • In tournament play, Player has 17 career holes-in-one.

  • Counting his wins on the Senior Tour, Player has won professional tournaments in five decades. Sam Snead is the only other player to accomplish this feat.

  • Player has said he could squat 300 pounds when he was 28 years old and 325 pounds when he was 58.

  • On the night before the 1988 U.S. Open, with a small contingent of sportswriters and golfers watching, Player hit the floor of the locker room at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and did push-ups with one arm. He was 52.

  • In 1987, he criticized the all-exempt tour, saying it has made it "too easy to make a living playing professional golf, and that easiness breeds complacency."

  • Player's career golf earnings total more than $10 million.

  • Renowned for his bluntness, Player reportedly once told a corpulent 10-year-old who wanted his autograph: "I know your parents love you and don't want to hurt your feelings, but, son, I must tell you: You're fat."

  • At the 1974 British Open, which Player won, his caddy, Alfred "Rabbit" Dyer, was accused of dropping a ball in the rough to save Player a penalty stroke.

  • Player was accused of cheating by Tom Watson in a TV Skins match in 1983. Player denied the charge.