Courtesy of PGA TOUR.
South Africa’s Gary Player, a nine-time major champion on TOUR and winner of the 1965 (as part of a team) and ‘77 (individual champion) World Cup of Golf, sat down to talk about one of the game’s greatest global team events.
Q: As a past champion at the World Cup, what do you remember about your victory in 1965?
A: I was playing with Harold Henning as my partner in Madrid, Spain, and I woke up the morning of the final round and couldn’t move my neck. I told Harold I needed to withdraw and he said “Don’t tell me that, tell my lawyer.” He wanted to win the tournament so badly. I decided to play after taking about four aspirin and got a massage on my neck. How I played I will never know. I couldn’t hit the ball 10 yards on the practice tee. Miraculously, I went on to win the team event with Harold and the individual championship. It was such a great tournament to me because you had so many different nations from all over the world. They gave the players $500 in American Express checks to come play, and we thought that was a lot of money. Now some of the players don’t even want to play when they are offered hundreds of thousands of dollars. Strange world.
Q: When you won, it split up a string of victories between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. What do you remember about the competition at the World Cup of Golf?
A: The odds of them beating Harold and myself was great. Jack and Arnold were already super stars. But Harold was a terrific player and a great putter, so we played very well together. He had a great putting week and it was a thrill for us to break the American strong hold on the tournament. We were both thrilled.
Q: Would you agree that the World Cup of Golf was kind of the World Golf Championships of the past? Would you agree that it was at the forefront of true global competition?
A: It certainly was. You had nations around the world sending their best players to compete, and it was a wonderful tournament to promote global golf being played in different countries every year. I never turned it down, and played every possible time. It was a great dream to play. For me to travel and play golf was not only to try to win tournaments, but a wonderful global education to learn about people’s cultures, languages and history.
Q: What did it mean to you to represent your country in a team competition?
A: Obviously we wanted to have South Africa win this world title. Your country receives honor and a lot of publicity if their players win. It’s important. If we won, we could tell the world and the world could see that South Africa was such a beautiful country with tremendous athletes. A lot probably thought we were mostly a jungle country (laughs) when we were one of the most modern places in the world. People then began to think, well if they won the World Cup there must be incredible golf courses in South Africa. I am proud to say we have as good of courses as there are on the planet. It helped promote tourism too.
Q: The World Cup of Golf is being played at Kingston Heath in Australia. What do you like/love about the golf courses in Melbourne and in Australia?
A: I lost the Australian Open there to Frank Phillips, and I remember being so upset because I had it won, but came up short. Nicklaus and I were battling it out to see who could win the most Australian Opens. I am happy to say I still to this day have the most wins ever with 7 in that tournament. I went to the hotel room, picked my clubs up, and threw them across the room with my wife sitting right there and she got such a shock. I was so upset. Kingston Heath is a magnificent golf course. The Sandbelt golf courses are an incredible golf destination. I encourage all the players to arrive early and go have a look.
Q: Jaco Van Zyl and George Coetzee will be representing South Africa in this year’s World Cup of Golf. What makes them a threat to compete for the title?
A: At Kingston Heath you usually have a tricky wind blowing. They are both straight hitters, so it is to their advantage. I will be watching and rooting for them extra hard to give South Africa another world title.