Laureus Academy Member Gary Player won the US Masters three times. Here he looks ahead to this week’s Championship in Augusta, for which he is official starter. During the Championship, he will be writing a daily blog for the Laureus website
BY GARY PLAYER
Over the years, it has been a very special privilege for me to play in the US Masters. It is truly a unique event. I have played 52 Masters, a record, have won three times, been second three times and made the most cuts in a row. It’s not surprising that I love the place.
So it’s a big honour to be going back to Augusta this week as official starter with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
The three of us used to travel extensively round the world to play and promote the game and there was fierce competition between us, beating each other then accepting the loss and looking forward to the next victory. We remain great friends.
I am often asked: what do you need to have in your game to be a Masters winner?
You have to have great patience, because you can hit great shots at Augusta and end up with sheer disaster. You have to be able to accept adversity.
Most definitely, you have to be a great putter!
There is so much said about long driving, which irritates me, because it’s not long driving which wins golf tournaments, it’s putting. Especially at Augusta, because the greens are very fast and very, very undulating.
If I put the ball of the average club golfer on a certain place on the green, he would three-putt all 18 greens.
And then there is Amen Corner – the 11th, 12th and 13th – it’s the most appropriate name I’ve ever heard. Throw in the 10th and it’s an extremely difficult run of holes.
A short hole like the 12th is only an 8-iron, but my goodness it’s ruined many a score and prevented many a man from winning the Masters.
So who is going to win this week?
Tiger Woods played extremely well when he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational the week before last. It’s the first time I’ve seen him drive the ball well in a long time. He’s going to be very, very tough at Augusta. He knows the course, he’s confident and he’s had a tough time for two years and he’s very hungry. I expect him to do extremely well.
Can Tiger beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major Championship wins? His two years away from the game has certainly disrupted what seemed to be an inevitable progression to that record. To what degree, I don’t know.
He certainly has the ability to do it. But it would be very foolish to predict what would happen because he has got to win five more Majors to pass Jack. A very difficult task. But he is a man with such focus and dedication and hunger, I don’t see anyone else quite like that in the game of golf today.
Tiger will have plenty of opposition at Augusta. You’ve got Rory McIlroy, who is a brilliant young golfer. He’ll be tough.
Luke Donald is No 1 in the world right now and these greens are just made for him.
And there are a host of guys, including Charl Schwartzel, the defending champion from South Africa, who I expect to be in contention. Charl is a very consistent golfer and that’s the hallmark of a champion. It would not surprise me to see him excel.
Charl and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the 2010 Open Championship at St Andrews, are the latest in a new wave of South African golfers of whom I am very proud. We have great climate, great courses and great junior programmes, so nothing surprises me.
You know Charl will play well most of the time. And so does Rory for that matter and Lee Westwood as well, we should include him, he’s a very consistent golfer.
There are so many this year who can win it. Just have a great putting week and you can win.
But who is it going to be? Who will be wearing the green jacket next Sunday evening?
I have to favour Rory McIlory this year. You remember last year he was playing so well and was leading and he had that collapse in the final round with an 80. I think Rory has a little revenge in his heart for the golf course.
The way he recovered from that upset at the US Open a couple of months later showed what maturity he has. The disappointment might have seriously affected a less mentally strong young man.
In recognition of that, I was delighted he won the Breakthrough of the Year Award at the Laureus World Sports Awards in London in February – plus, of course, Darren Clarke receiving the Comeback of the Year Award after his Open Championship victory at Royal St. George’s.
I enjoyed being at the Awards very much. To sit in the room with so many world champions at one time is a special experience. With all the benefit that is done for disadvantaged young people around the world, doing good through sport is a wonderful motto and the results are striking.
I am proud of my connection with Laureus and with the work that we do through The Player Foundation. We will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year and I am proud to say that we have raised over $50 million so far. The Foundation is not just in South Africa any more. We have raised a lot of money in China for AIDS children and we’ve raised a lot of money in the United States, in Europe and in Abu Dhabi. Wherever these fund-raising golf events take place the money goes to a particular charity in that country. It’s very hard work for me, at the age of 76, to travel around the world, but it’s been rewarding to see how you can change somebody’s life. And having been poor as a young man and knowing what it is to struggle, it’s a thrill for me to do it.