You’ve said the Open is your favourite Major. Why?
The thing about the Open that is so different is the history. A lot of young people today who play golf, there are some that really don’t understand the history of the game.
You go back to Old Tom Morris and people like that, who had great golf records and played fantastic golf in their time. There are so many examples that apply to this tournament that don’t apply to any other Major. Not even close.
Is it about respect then?
You have got to have respect for the birth of the Open. You go to any other Major championship and you say to your caddie ‘what’s the yardage?’
Now everything is exact – 151 yards. But here (at the Open) you can be on the 1st hole, 150 yards and hit a pitching wedge and tomorrow you can hit a 4-iron. Yardage is irrelevant and that’s what I love about this tournament.
You have got to use instinct. Instinct is part of the game which doesn’t apply to the extent in other Majors that it does here.
What role can the weather play?
My PA was travelling with me (to Royal Troon) and he says ‘what a beautiful day’. I said ‘Mark, it’s a beautiful morning’. He said ‘what do you mean?’ I said ‘you could play this morning and have a lousy round and shoot 72 and this afternoon you could play your heart out and shoot 75 or 76’.
The Open is a greater test than any tournament as far as a man is concerned and whether you can accept adversity. It tests your character more so, by miles, than any other tournament.
You’ve played all the Open courses, which was the hardest?
Wow, Carnoustie. I won the Open there with 289. Now, if the wind doesn’t blow, guys tear it up. But when the wind blows at Carnoustie, it’s a monster.
What are the worst things you’ve seen at the Open?
I’d probably have to say Jean van de Velde (in 1999). When he dies, the last thing he is going to say is ‘Carnoustie’.
To have a three-shot lead with one hole to go, it’s not possible. I had a two-shot lead at Carnoustie (in 1968). There were five of us within one stroke playing the 14th – the Spectacles – and I hit a 3-wood that far (gestures 12 inches) from the hole.
I had a two-shot lead and I played the last hole with Jack Nicklaus. I took a 3-iron off the tee. Van de Velde should have taken a 6-iron. A 6-iron, 6-iron, wedge – make a double bogey and win.
Tony Jacklin has got Lee Trevino by two shots at Muirfield (in 1972). Jacklin was a very gutsy player. He was charismatic. He hits his shot and puts it 12 foot from the hole (at the 16th) and Trevino is in the bunker.
Trevino blades it. It hits the flag and goes in. If it misses the flag, he’s going to make a seven. I am watching the last three holes in the gallery and he (Trevino) says ‘they buried 20 old damn members here’.
He’s sulking, knocks it out, basically given up. It hits the downslope, runs into the hole.
What is the difference in equipment now, compared to when you played in the Open?
I was in the pro shop (at Royal Troon). I was walking out and there was a driver lying against the wall. It had a wooden head and I picked it up and I looked at it. I said ‘can you believe that we played with this?’ Really and truly, I would love to give it to Rory and Jason Day, to one of these guys, and say ‘go play with this’.
They would struggle. They wouldn’t be hitting it 330 and 340 yards. It’s not possible. If you didn’t hit it absolutely perfectly, you were in the rough. You realise how good those guys in the past were.
And your abiding memories?
I first played at Muirfield in 1959, when I won. I arrived there and I came 10 days early, because I wanted to win the Open. I couldn’t see my wife having a baby.
I wanted to be there but I didn’t have the money. So I met her here and we went up to Muirfield and I walked in the club and the secretary was Colonel Evans Lombe. I said ‘good morning, sir’. ‘What do you want here?’ ‘I’ve come to practise before the Open’. ‘Well, you are not practising here, my boy’.
I got quite a shock and I had to think quickly. I said ‘sir, I’m very poor. My wife’s just had a baby. I need the money dreadfully badly. Please, I ask you, to be humane and let me practise’. He said ‘go ahead’.
It worked out in the end…
I had a cup of tea with him every morning and he was instrumental in me winning, to a degree. He said ‘I see you hitting a driver and a wedge to number 15 every day. The wind changes, you’ll hit a 3-iron there’.
So I went and played my next few practice rounds. I went off with a 6-iron and hit a 3-iron to the green. Wouldn’t you believe it, the last day the wind blew like hell.
I hit a driver and a 3-iron in the morning – birdie. Afternoon, driver and a 2-iron – birdie – and won the tournament.
What’s Troon’s hardest tee shot?
Number 10, over the dunes. It’s completely blind, you have got a mounding, rolling fairway, and it is narrow. That is by far the hardest. The 13th is a tough driving hole. The back nine is one of the toughest nines in golf.
Gary Player’s Open victories
Four shots adrift of Fred Bullock and Sam King going into the final round, Player produced a brilliant 68 to win by two shots.
Playing 36 holes on that final day, he need a four at the last for a 66 but drove into a bunker and three putted for a six. It didn’t prove costly.
A 3-wood over the Spectacles to less than a foot at the 14th gave Player an eagle and paved the way for a two-shot victory over Bob Charles and Jack Nicklaus.
Only three times since (1985, 1999 and 2008) has been a par score greater than Player’s +1.
It was wire-to-wire for Player as he secured his eighth Major title. Tied with England’s John Morgan after a first round 69, Player led by five after a 68 in the second.
A 75 kept him three clear of Peter Oosterhuis and a closing 70 was enough for a four-shot win.
Jordan Spieth has got a big fault in his swing. He’s not finding it and it’s so obvious to me what he’s doing. I’d give anything to spend half an hour with Spieth.
If I could spend half an hour with Spieth, he might turn out to be the best player the world has ever known. He is a machine with putting.
He’s got a bad fault in his swing and I am shocked that his coach can’t see it. He stands there every day and they can’t see what he is doing.
Gary on…driving distances
These different bodies and organisations are coming out with stats that I can’t agree with. They say the average distance now is only 30 yards. Don’t worry about the average.
Take the 20 really big hitters now and the 20 longest hitters in our time and the ball is going 50 yards further. Golf is Mickey Mouse now.
In 30 or 40 years time, they are going to stand there and they are going to hit the ball 450 yards. There are players today who can stand on the first tee at St Andrews and they will drive it over the first green. You don’t believe that, but it’s a fact. I keep telling these bodies this, and they don’t want to listen.
Gary Player was appearing at the Mercedes-Benz Patrons’ day at Royal Troon. Mercedes-Benz is an official Patron of The Open Championship.