When knights were bold

May 18, 2017

In my first column last season, Master's Heartbreak; Arnie Not Jordan, I was saddened to see a frail Arnold Palmer sitting in a chair on the tee box, watching the opening ceremonies and first tee shot for the 2016 Masters.

This year, on the first tee, his chair was empty, but his last Master's green jacket was neatly folded over the back of that chair, while his wife, Kathleen, was holding back her tears.

During the introduction, if you remember, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were standing together, wiping the tears from their eyes and my thoughts drifted back to when "the big three" battled each other for decades to see who would be the champion of any event when they gathered to play.

With the spirit of Arnie watching, Player, now the third oldest living Master's winner at 82, teed up the ceremonial first ball and hit it straight down the fairway. Not to be outdone, Nicklaus followed with his classic swing and did the same. It was a moment to remember.

The baton was passed to Player, also known as the "Black Knight" (who always dressed in black, whenever he played), to now be the face of future Master's events.

Gary Player was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1935, the youngest of Harry and Muriel Player's three children. When he was eight years old his mother died from cancer. Although his father was often away from home working in the gold mines, he did manage to take out a loan in order to buy a set of clubs for his son Gary to begin playing golf.

The Virginia Park golf course in Johannesburg is where Player first began his love affair with golf. At the age of 14, he played his first round of golf and parred the first three holes. At age 16, he announced that he would become number one in the world. At age 17, he became a professional golfer.

Over his career, Player accumulated nine major championships on the regular tour and six Champions Tour major championship victories, as well as three Senior British Open Championships on the European Senior Tour.

At the age of 29, the Black Knight won the 1965 U.S. Open and became the only non-American to win all four majors, known as the career Grand Slam. He became only the third golfer in history to win the Career Grand Slam, following Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen, and only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have performed the feat since.

In all, Player has won 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades, including the Master's three times (1961, 1974, and 1978) and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.

He has been called the "greatest international golfer of all time," and estimates that he has spent more than three years of his life in airplanes, travelling more than 15 million miles.

His legacy includes the following:

• In 1966, he was awarded the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf.

• In 2000, the Black Knight was ranked as the eighth greatest golfer of all time by Golf Digest magazine and was voted "Sportsman of the Century" in South Africa.

• In 2002, he was voted as the second greatest global golfer of all time by a panel of international media, golf magazines and fellow professionals conducted by the leading Golf Asia Magazine.

• On April 10, 2009 he played for the last time in the Masters, where he was playing for his record 52nd time – every year since 1957 except for 1973, when he was recovering from surgery. After Nicklaus and Palmer, he was the last of the Big Three to retire from this tournament, a testament to his longevity.


19th hole trivia

Gary Player is the brother of Ian Player, a notable South African environmental educator and conservationist, who helped save the white rhino from extinction.

Player operates The Player Foundation, which has a primary objective of promoting underprivileged education around the world.

Arnold Palmer's first wife, Winnie, died of ovarian cancer in 1999.

Palmer's fans were so numerous and loyal, they became known as "Arnie's Army."

Doug Ford is the oldest living Master's winner (1957) at age 94, only because, he is 176 days older than, Jack Burke (94), who won the 1956 Master's.

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