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Gary Player set for 50th Masters appearance

Gary Player's love affair with the U.S. Masters shows no sign of waning as he prepares to make his 50th competitive appearance at Augusta National next month.

In the same year he celebrated 50 years of marriage to his wife Vivienne, the 71-year-old South African once again returns to the event he considers to be the best in golf.

"I am very grateful I have been able to be there 50 times and will equal the record set by Arnold Palmer for the most appearances," Player told Reuters on Monday.

"It is without doubt the best tournament in the world and I cannot wait to be there in April."

Player has several great memories of his first trip to Augusta in 1957, including a meeting with President Eisenhower.

"I remember my first drive up Magnolia Lane, it was so much more than I expected," he said. "As one of the players on tour once said so aptly: 'This is the only tournament where you start to choke as you drive in the gates'.

"It was amazing that first trip. I arrived there and met up with Bobby Jones, who was a golfing icon, and then the next day I was meeting President Eisenhower, then I was meeting Augusta chairman Clifford Roberts, it was all just a bit overwhelming."

That was the start of a glittering career in which Player collected three coveted Masters green jackets, three British Open titles, two U.S. PGA championships and one U.S. Open.

His last major win came at the 1978 Masters but the super-fit South African is still in good shape now.

"I feel like a man 30 years younger," said Player. "I still manage to get into the gym every day and am always working on my flexibility.

"I also watch my diet and am trying to cut out meat products from my diet completely. I'm 80 percent of the way there."

Palmer said he was in awe of Player's ceaseless drive and ambition.

"Gary Player is going to do whatever he can to top whatever I've done," said Palmer. "That includes living longer or whatever.

"He is a never-ending guy that travels all the time. I wouldn't do what he does to tell you the truth. He is probably going around the world seven times this year and he's flying commercially, I wouldn't do that."

Player made a record 23 consecutive cuts at the Masters between 1959-82.

"If there's a golf course in heaven I hope it's one like Augusta National and that I can be the head pro," he said. "But I'm not in any hurry to tee off.

"I have cherished every moment there and would like to think I have been the tournament's greatest ambassador worldwide."


March 20, 2007

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