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Gary Player preaching health and fitness

When Gary Player won his first Masters title in 1961, someone said he'd never last. All that weightlifting and exercising was going to ruin his career.

So much for that.

Almost 50 years later, Player is one of the greatest the game has ever seen with nine major titles and the career Grand Slam. And at 71 he's got the body of a man half his age, thanks to 1 1/2 -hour workouts five days a week.

"I exercise like a Trojan," Player said Monday, standing up and slapping his rock-hard stomach for emphasis. "I want to live a long time. I have 18 grandchildren and probably will end up having about 22, and my greatest joy is doing things with them.

"I'd like to live to 100, I certainly would. Because I have such a zest for life."

Player was a fitness fanatic long before it was in vogue. Now that golfers have realized he was onto something -- Tiger Woods is one of the fittest athletes in any sport -- Player wants to tackle the rest of the world.

In the United States alone, Player said, 3,500 deaths each day can be traced back to obesity. If people don't start taking better care of themselves, health care costs will continue to skyrocket.

"The obesity factor is, in my humble opinion, the biggest single danger to the world today," he said. "I want to try and make young guys say, `Look at this guy, 71, he can still play, he can still walk around. You look good.' Because really, this is a very, very serious thing, and it's being overlooked.

"They are reducing exercise, they are eating more (junk)," he added. "If you look at the amount of money it's going to cost countries, it's staggering."

This will be Player's 50th Masters, tying a record set three years ago by Arnold Palmer. Though he's made the cut only four times in the last 20 years, he can still come close to shooting his age occasionally.

He'd like to play at least one more year at Augusta National so he can hold the record for most Masters played. He already holds the record for most consecutive British Opens played, at 46.

"Possibly next year could be my last," he said. "I'm not committing myself. ... I don't want to say it's my last time and then come back. I don't want to do that.

"When I say that's my last, please, if I come and tee it up, steal the ball. Take the ball off the first tee and run away with it."


April 3, 2007

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