GRANITEVILLE — Gary Player has seen golf come a long way in a career that has spanned more than six decades.
He traveled by Greyhound bus when he first played in the United States in the 1950s, and his three Masters Tournament victories earned him a combined $100,000.
Jet travel is now common for professional golfers, and Bubba Watson earned $1,620,000 for his Masters win two weeks ago.
But Player, who addressed the 54 participants in this week’s Junior Invitational at Sage Valley on Tuesday night, isn’t complaining. Instead, he wants golf’s future generations to appreciate how good they have it.
“I think the word that comes to mind tonight is gratitude,” Player said. “How lucky they are. Most young people in the world don’t have a TV, they don’t have a shower, they don’t have a bath, they don’t have white sheets on their bed, they don’t have a school to go to, they don’t have three meals a day, they don’t have clothes every day.
“This is something we’ve got to get through mainly to young American children because there has been a massive sense of entitlement in the youth of America today. And they’re not entitled to a … thing.”
Player, 78, overcame his humble origins growing up in South Africa to become one of golf’s greatest players. He is one of only five golfers to win all four of the game’s major events in his career. In 1961 he became the first international golfer to win the Masters, and he added victories at Augusta National Golf Club in 1974 and 1978.
Now an honorary starter at the Masters alongside Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, Player competed in the Masters a record 52 times and holds numerous tournament records.
Player knows how he achieved those records.
“You’ve got to get out there, you’ve got to work and you’ve got to realize what made this the greatest country in the world is hard work, education and respect,” he said. “This is the kind of thing I try to get through to young people. Here they are playing on this luxurious golf course, everything paid for, living like a king and it didn’t even happen for me as a professional golfer.”
The Junior Invitational, presented by Electrolux, features the top 54 junior boys in the world. The 54-hole tournament will be held Thursday through Saturday at the private club.
The World Golf Hall of Fame member also delivered a message about the
importance of physical fitness. He earned his nickname Mr. Fitness for his devotion to staying in top physical shape and following a healthy diet.
“How do we get people to exercise?” asked Player, who demonstrated his vitality by dancing with two women on the stage when he was introduced. “It is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get an average young boy today in America to exercise and watch a diet and get his parents to insist upon it.”
With obesity and diabetes growing at alarming rates, Player offered two simple steps to a healthier lifestyle.
“I don’t tell people to go to a gym anymore,” he said. “All I say is walk. Walk 30 minutes per day and the other thing is to take your food and cut it in half. That’s all you’ve got to do. And you’ll be healthy.”
To prove his fitness, Player held two golf clubs up using only two fingers. Then he challenged any of the youth present to do the same thing. Even with an offer of cash, the two players who tried couldn’t do it.
Although golf as a sport is going through some tough times, Player is encouraged by what he sees from today’s youth. And he continues to tout its advantages over other sports such as football or tennis.
“I won a golf tournament at age 63,” he said. “I still today, at nearly 79, average 70. I can often beat my age by 12, 13 shots in a round.
“It enables you to travel. For young people to choose golf, it’s a game that teaches you manners, and it teaches you to win and it teaches you to lose. And you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win. I don’t know any sport that compares to it.”