Home / Mint-lounge / Features /  Gary Player: After Tiger Woods, golf needs new icons

A miner’s son who went on to become a golf champion, Gary Player’s story of struggle and victory is legendary. But what’s exciting the 79-year-old South African golfer at the moment is “building his masterpiece golf course", the 18-hole DLF Gary Player Golf Course, in Gurgaon, Haryana. He was in New Delhi recently to appraise the project ahead of the Masters in the US, which is being held from 6-12 April, and talked about his favourite golfers, Anirban Lahiri’s entry to the tournament, and why golf deserves new stars. Edited excerpts:

Who do you see among the top contenders at the Masters for the coveted green jacket?

None of the players is as good as Tiger Woods at his best but Rory (McIlroy) is coming along well. He has won three Majors. If he wins the Masters this year he would win the Grand Slam at 25. When I won the Grand Slam at 29, I said to my wife, “Nobody will beat that." (Jack) Nicklaus came along and did that at 26, and then Tiger Woods did it at 24. Now Rory holds a chance. But we do have some great players who hold promise, like Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Jason Day and Rory—just to mention four: Any of them can become a world star. We need icons after this great icon in Tiger Woods fades away.

So let’s talk about Tiger Woods...

He’s had strange things happen in his life which can happen to anyone. He has had knee problems, a few surgeries on the left leg, back operations and a divorce and contracts being cancelled, etc. There is a lot of pressure on his mind. But if anyone can accept it, it is Tiger Woods. The thing that worries me about him now is that he can’t hit the fairway with the driver, and this has been going on for several years. Now he is duffing chips. Here was the best in the world and he can’t hit the green with a chip shot. There is that thing called the yips in golf. If he has got the yips, he is finished.

India’s proud to have Anirban Lahiri play the Masters. What would you advise him as a nine-time Majors champion yourself?

Isn’t that exciting? What an honour. He must go in there with the right attitude. It’s 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. So he has got to go in there with a positive attitude.

What makes a champion?

Someone would say dedication, application, enjoying adversity, determination, talent, learning to suffer with dignity. According to me, there is a new thing called “it" that makes a champion. I don’t think people remain talented forever, they are loaned that talent for some period of time. For example, Tom Watson, who never won for 10 years. Look what’s happening to Tiger Woods right now; the man cannot play at all at the moment.

How important is fitness to a champion?

Age is a concept man has devised. You can be 80 years young or 20 years old. I do 1,300 sit-ups now and push 300 pounds (136kg) with my legs. I do the treadmill, I travel extensively and I have 23 million kilometres of flying to my name. You have to put the right gasoline in the gas for it to go. You have to take your body along. You have to stay fit.

When defining the “greatest" player, should the person’s game alone be considered or his/her personality beyond the sport?

I think we should look at the person as beyond the sport’s champion. I believe they have an obligation to society. They have to cultivate this talent beyond sport where they can do something of added value. When they judge the best golfer ever, they will only look at their golf record; when they judge the greatest cricketer ever, they will judge him on that alone.

How do you react to golfers throwing clubs in the middle of fairways?

Well I am not going to take any names as I am a fan of the young guys. When I see them throwing clubs—remember, we have over 1.5 million people watching them on television—they should remember they are icons. Manners maketh a man.

How can golf be promoted in India?

We have got to get younger people playing and ensure golf doesn’t get the title of an elitist sport. I was very poor and I struggled to play. My father made only £100 (around 9,000 now) a month and I went on to become a champion. This happened to Lee Trevino, who lived out of a shack, so today the programmes for juniors are remarkable. This is what we need to do in India.

Shaili Chopra is the founder of and India Golf Awards.

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