South Africa’s 84-year-old golf legend Gary Player speaks to FORBES AFRICA about the greatest honor of his life and on training like a 40-year-old at his daughter’s home during the lockdown in the US.
South Africa’s nine-time Grand Slam golfer, Gary Player, is currently in lockdown with his wife Vivienne in Pennsylvania, in the United States (US), where the couple are visiting their daughter Amanda-Leigh Hall and her family.
Player had also arrived in the US to receive what he calls one of the greatest honors of his life, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Donald Trump at the White House on March 23; some of the past recipients of the prestigious award include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mother Teresa, Toni Morrison, Tiger Woods and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
But the lockdown changed all plans.
So the golfer, best known for an illustrious playing career that included 165 professional victories, is now in his daughter’s home, “training like a 40-year-old”.
Elated, Player classifies the Presidential Medal of Freedom recognition as coming second to the honor of being a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
When asked how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected him, the world-renowned 84-year-old golfer, nicknamed the ‘Black Night’, says in a phone interview from the US with FORBES AFRICA: “We are living in extraordinary times. This is not life as we have come to know it. My heart goes out to people during this trying time.”
Player fears the aftermath of the Covid-19 virus could be devastating to all, as some are already beginning to suffer due to the inability to earn an income.
“The post Covid-19 world may cause humans to sink into an inevitable hole of depression, and I fear that people will be dying not of the virus, but of hunger and thirst,” he says.
Player says he prays numerous times a day to thank God for his blessings. This year, he celebrates being married to Vivienne for 63 years.
“I love her even more now than I did back then, I wouldn’t trade the last 63 years for nothing on this earth,” Player says.
Vivienne has traveled the entire “amazing” route with Player while raising the couple’s six children: Jennifer, Marc, Wayne, Michelle, Theresa, and Amanda.
“I can safely, and with confidence, say that my wife is my best friend,” adds Player.
Although in his eighties, and true to his second nickname, ‘Mr Fitness’, Player may be in lockdown in his daughter’s home but he exercises diligently at the in-house gym.
He also ventures into the forested area on his daughter’s property for long, peaceful walks in solitude. There is also a simulator at the house where Player can tee off as though on a golf course.
Including him and his wife, there are currently nine people in his daughter’s home, and although being in isolation, this experience has brought the family even closer, he says.
“All of us participate in joint activities that were never possible before due to everyone’s busy lifestyles. I love my large family,” attests the man blessed with 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He is yet to meet his month-old great-grandchild born to granddaughter Antonia and who is the newest addition to his large family.
When the lockdown ends, Player hopes to return to normal life “as soon as possible”. As a businessman with a “hectic, hectic” schedule, he is eager to get back to doing what he loves and says that being patient is not an easy feat.
Commenting on his own future, Player says he wishes to be remembered as a man who tried to contribute to society despite the mistakes he made.
“When I die and pass away, I want people to know that I tried my best in life. And that I am sorry for all the mistakes I made. Admittedly, we all make mistakes.
“I want to be remembered as a man who loved his fellow men,” says the legend who has also recently been key to integrating golf courses into local communities back home in South Africa.
“I am convinced there is a black girl or boy in South Africa today with tremendous athletic prowess, with the talent. If they can just be incentivized, then there is a chance,” Player told FORBES AFRICA for a story on his new initiatives in November 2018.
– Brandon Nel, FORBES AFRICA contributor
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