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April 3, 2012
BILLY MORRIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We are thrilled to have with us today one of golf's true great champions, Mr.Gary Player.
This year, Gary will be joining Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus on our first tee on Thursday morning to officially begin the Tournament as an Honorary Starter.
Now, you will recall, Gary is our tournament's first international champion. In his 21 appearances between 1959 and 1980, he not only won the Masters in 1961, 1974, 1978, but he also finished in the Top‑10 12 times. He retired from competition a few years ago after having played in a remarkable 52 Tournaments here in Augusta.
Gary, welcome back. I know you have many great memories here, but what do you think about Thursday morning, and how will that rate in your mind?
GARY PLAYER: Well, Billy, it's like when I think of Augusta, it's like a journey. You arrive here in 1957 as a young man, and you drive in those magnificent gates, and yesterday I happened to see when we registered, the gates, as they originally were, just two pillars. And it's remarkable to see the changes that I've seen over the years, and you come here playing, and you're in awe and you're hoping to make the cut and do well. If you do make the cut and then you're fortunate enough to win the tournament; and then you finish second; and you have good times and you meet wonderful people; and you meet Arnold and Jack and you spend your entire careers with them, week‑in and week‑out. And between us, we win 56 major championships, senior and regular and TV comes to the fore with Mark McCormack at that right time so the timing was right.
Between us, we win over 350 golf tournaments around the world and we grow up, we play together and compete against each other, we have great love for each other and great respect for each other, and now to be teeing off on Thursday morning is a great honor for me, because I hold this course in high esteem and have great respect and admire the way you run the Tournament. Best organized tournament I've ever played in. Of course you have an advantage playing it in the same place every year.
So teeing off with Arnold and Jack is going to be very special. I go back to Jock Hutchison and I. I always loved the history of golf. I stood there and watched Jock Hutchison hit off the first tee and watched that incredible swing Sam Snead hit off the first tee. So it's got a lot of wonderful memories for me.
Q. When were you first asked to be an Honorary Starter? When did you decide you would do it?
GARY PLAYER: Well, the minute they asked me, I said yes (laughing). Thank goodness my wife said yes when I asked her, too.
Q. When you tee off Thursday, will you look amongst the three of you and see who had the best shot?
GARY PLAYER: Absolutely. Absolutely.
I've been training very hard. I've just come from the gym right now, in fact. I increased my sit‑ups and my weights. Absolutely. We've been very competitive.
You know, it was Bear Bryant‑‑ no, I don't want to say who it was. Let me refrain from that. It was a famous coach that said, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a non‑winner." And that is such nonsense. Because you are going to lose way more than you're going to win.
Between us, we were so competitive, we wanted to beat each other so badly, and we did beat each other on a lot of occasions; in medal tournaments, in match‑play events, and we had our share of beating each other.
But the nice thing about it, when we did lose, we looked the other in the eye and said, well done, but I'll get you next week. That was our history of being together.
It was just terrific that you could play and really would make it known, I want to beat the hell out of you. And yet, you could be such great friends. I thought that was‑‑ that, to me, was‑‑ my father said to me, he said, you've got to remember, you're going to lose more. He said, "Enjoy the success of others, because when you have success, you'd like them to enjoy yours."
And that's true. When they beat me, I said, "Well played, you played like a champion." When I beat them, they said the same thing. And that's how good friends are supposed to be.
Q. Just to follow up on that, Rory McIlroy said the very same thing, you're going to lose more than you're going to win. What did you think of the grace that he had with his finish here last year?
GARY PLAYER: That was remarkable for me to see that. If you look at certain competitors‑‑ well, if you look at‑‑ I hate to ever mention names. But if you look at Ed Snead, Ed Snead had to finish with one par on the last three holes to win, and he bogeyed all three holes. And you never, ever heard of Ed Snead again. He never won again.
Then you saw Tony Jacklin with what Lee Trevino did to him at Muirfield, which is as bad as I thought what happened to VandeVelde at Carnoustie. Do you remember what happened there? Well, Jacklin was two shots ahead with three holes to go, and Jacklin put it about 12 foot from the hole at Muirfield. Trevino put it in the bunker, so it looks like it's all over.
Trevino gets in there, and at Muirfield, and it's tradition, you can go there now, tomorrow or in a year's time, the rough is always up to your waist, always. That's the case. Not on the edge of the fairway but back. Trevino blades the ball, hits it absolutely clean, it's going in that long rough at the back which would be unplayable. He might make a six or seven; you don't know what he might make.
Hits the flag and comes straight down into the hole. I mean, the kind of flags you have there, not like the American flags that are very thin, you can get that and hit the flag and come down. You have to hit in absolute ‑‑ you could probably hit it a thousand times and never do that again, and it goes in the hole.
Anyway, Jacklin is still one ahead, and he's very pumped up. Now, Trevino puts it in the bunker off the fairway, and he's up there with his feet up on the end said, "How many members did they bury here," knocks it out over there.
Jacklin gets up there, knocks it on the green for two; Trevino knocks it over the green for three. Trevino gets up there. He's still complaining and mumbling away and hits the chip, gets down the hill, runs down hill, goes down, goes in the hole.
Jacklin 3‑putts and Trevino beats him. And that's when they said that famous line to Trevino, "How did you beat Jacklin?"
"Don't forget. God's a Mexican." That's when he came out with that.
I've never seen anything like that. VandeVelde did it all on his own. But what Trevino and what actually occurred between the two, I never saw anything like that in golf. And Jacklin never really played well after that.
There are numerous people that have had things like that happen in their careers. They have had tragedies. And this lady who missed that putt ‑‑ I don't often watch golf, but on Sunday, I watched this lady miss a putt that long (gesturing one foot in length). She could knock it in at midnight; she could knock it in blindfolded; she could knock it in at with one hand; she could kick it in and she missed the putt.
I pray that that doesn't have an effect on it, but that could. That could ruin her career. That's possible. I don't say it will, but it's possible. My heart bled for her.
Q. Wondered if you had talked to Arnold between the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he had to go to the hospital and the last couple of days. Have you had a discussion with him and saw how he was doing?
GARY PLAYER: No, I'm sorry. I went South Africa to Rio to London to South Africa to China to India to America (laughter) to Honduras and I've just been back a while.
Q. So why weren't you in the hospital then? (Laughter.)
GARY PLAYER: (Indicating brute physical strength.)
Q. Everybody talks about the greens at Augusta, and there was a change back in '81 that was probably pretty monumental when they went to bentgrass. Wondering if you recall how much different the greens played when they switched from bermuda to bent.
GARY PLAYER: You know, I've been playing very well lately. I've been beating my age. But every round I've played, I've beaten my age by at least five shots lately. And it's such an easier game now. It's just quite unbelievable. The ball goes 50 yards further.
The grooves, well, they went through a stage, debatedly very illegal, and that's why they kept chopping and changing; a lightweight shaft, a metal head, bunkers that are done with a machine. We all used to rake the bunkers with our feet. Now, it's all uniformly done and fairways that are cut this short and greens that are like a snooker table. We just never saw that in our time, we just never saw it. It's just a different game.
And Augusta were the most smart of everybody considered. They realized what the ball and the equipment was doing so they lengthened the golf course.
So basically the golf course is playing the same distance today for these players that it played for us. They are hitting the same clubs. I mean, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods hit the ball. If you put them both at the same age and the same time with the same equipment, they were the same distance off the tee. And I've played with both of them so I know that for a fact.
Now, they'd hit the same clubs today than when we played, which has been great vision for Augusta to do that. The only trouble with that, with the ball and equipment, I'm all in favor of technology for the average man which is the amateur and the heart of the game, which the USGA and R&A keep mentioning, but they have to stop it for the pros, because if they don't, I don't know what's going to happen.
And I said this ten years ago on the BBC to one particular professional golfer and he scuffed at me. I said, "It's only a matter of time before they hit the ball 400 yards."
And he said, "There you go again, talking a lot of hogwash."
Just like they tell you when I said, you'll be doing weights and everybody will be doing weights. And then now, the next big technology is going to be eating, and they are going to say I'm a nut again, but it's coming and it's true.
And they are going to hit the ball 400 yards. And we have seen this happen very much now. People are starting to hit the ball 400 yards.
This young guy from Canada with a Polish name, only weighs 165 pounds or 170, carries it ‑‑ carries it ‑‑ 400 yards. But we have not had the big men come to golf yet. We have not had the Michael Jordans, the Shaq O'Neils. They are coming, because golf is the only sport that really, or one of the few sports, that has longevity in it.
So they have seen these guys make a million bucks a week and they can play until they are‑‑ I won a tournament at 63. You have this tour and a Senior Tour with a lot of money. So you'll have a lot of these people gradually filtering through, and 400 yards is going to be a common thing.
So what perturbs me is that with this distance going on, it can hurt golf, because the average club, the average club in Timbuktu, says, well, we've got to lengthen our golf course. They're driving a 7‑iron on a par 5.
So they all get together and lengthen the golf course. More water, more fuel, more labor, more machinery, and the costs go up. And they say, oh, we have to levy the members and the members don't like it, and the members resign. And that's why golf has declined, because these people have gone the wrong way. Instead of leaving their clubs as they were; and not worry, you're never going to have a golf tournament on your golf course anyway. The odds of you having a golf tournament on your course are one in 10,000, whatever the odds are.
So I think we have gone about it the wrong way for the betterment of golf. I'm just shocked when I see all these young people on the Tour, too. I see them playing with a putter up here and a putter here. I was playing with a guy the other day with a putter in his nose. This is a Pro‑Am and I said, what the hell are you doing?
He said, well, he had a piece of wool and a peg in there and he had this in his nose like that (indicating with finger pushed up into nose). And then you see a Scottish pro putting with it on his chin and everybody has got it anchored to them. I mean, nerves are part of the game. That's what we try to combat. That's the whole idea of golf. The man who is the winner can control his nerves the best. Now they have got everything anchored, and the game is changing dramatically in every sense, in every sense of the word.
Q. You talk about how the equipment now allows you to go out and shoot your age easily, help you shoot your age. Do you ever think back to what it would be like to be 30 years old coming into the game and using the gear that they are using now?
GARY PLAYER: It's an interesting thing. The question I'm asked almost every day of my life, particularly coming here, do you miss playing here. And I say, you know, when you sit down to a meal and you have a feast and you leave the table, you're satisfied. And if you're not, then you're being greedy. You're being a greedy guest.
I've played here 52 times, won it three times, second many times, Top‑10 many times, most number of cuts in a row, most number of times to have played. It was fantastic.
Now, but what do I do? Sometimes, yes, I think I would loved to have had the opportunity to play against Tiger and these guys with this equipment and have all that money to play for, yes. Now I've got 17 grandchildren, 200 horses. Hell, I've got to win a tournament to break even, man. The differential of my children and the horses eat like it's the last supper. (Laughter.)
Yes, I do wish that I could play in these tournaments with all this kind of prize money, I really do. I mean, I look at some people, they have won one tournament in their lives, one tournament and they won more money than I won winning 65 tournaments and 18 majors, nine on the regular tour and nine on the Senior Tour.
It's quite unbelievable. Am I jealous? Not at all. It's progress. And if we didn't do that, we would be going backwards. But yes, I do wish I could be playing today with this kind of equipment and the condition of golf courses.
Q. Bobby Jones spoke of his affection for St. Andrews. It occurs to me that you could probably speak just as well of your affection for this place. You have, after all, spent significantly more than a year of your life here. Could you please talk as well as I think you will about Augusta?
GARY PLAYER: Well, it's significantly more than a year, because besides having retired from the Tournament here, I've come back every year, and as long as I'm healthy, I'll come back to this tournament and The Open Championship as long as I live and I'm capable of doing it.
But it's a tournament that I think about, and the word that comes to mind is gratitude, because I think gratitude is an essential ingredient in one's life. If there's anyone that's ever travelled more than me in the history of the planet, I would like to meet him.
But be that as it may, and what these eyes have seen; and when I talk to young people in this country and around the world, the first‑world countries, I say to the young people, do you have a bed, do you have a bath, do you have a toilet, do you have a car, do you have heaters, do you have air conditioning, and they think I'm mad. And I turn around and say, there are kids in the world that don't have one of those things. And they can't comprehend.
So when you travel like I have, you put great emphasis on the word gratitude. And there's never a day of my life‑‑ let me put emphasis on it ‑‑ never a day in my life that I don't say thank you for everything that I have, because I've seen unbelievable things.
And I've come to this tournament with great memories. I mentioned this a long time ago, and one of the fellas ridiculed it when I gave this statement. I said, "Memories are the cushions of life," which they are. And you have these great memories of meeting Bobby Jones and sitting in the old locker room for the Champions, which was down at the bottom here, it was not at the top like we have now. And he was like this, and he had to cut his meat for him and he then took his fork and he ate his meat.
I vividly remember saying to him, "Look, Mr.Jones, I just cannot birdie No. 3." Because that flag on the left, you're lucky if you walk on, never mind hit a ball there.
He said, (speaking in very low‑toned voice), "You're not supposed to birdie it. You're supposed to par it." It took me a long time playing to realize that.
And then you meet President Eisenhower and you meet Billy Graham; and you meet these top businessmen and a man like Clifford Roberts. When I took my jacket back to South Africa, and three days later, "Gary, did you take the jacket back to South Africa?"
"I did, Mr. Roberts. Why?"
"Well, you're not supposed to."
"I didn't know that, Mr. Roberts."
"Well, what are you doing to do about it?"
"Well, I'm not going to do anything about it. Why don't you come and fetch it." (Laughter). That was to Mr. Roberts; he liked me and I liked him, and he saw the funny side of it.
He said, "Promise me you will never wear it," which I never did. And I put it in a plastic folder and there it stayed for the rest of time.
And the people you meet; I have always been so internationally inclined, and that's why my friendship with Arnold and Jack was something special, because they endorsed my thoughts about travelling internationally and promoting the game in the corners of the world that would never see big tournaments.
And so the people you meet, and I think you've been very fortunate in the world today, and I'm sure most of you in this room will agree with me, but not more than 30percent of the world enjoy their work. I don't know what the percentage is, but if you've got a job that you love and enjoy and to travel the world and to meet people, and the thing that's been a great thrill for me is Arnold and Jack and a host of other, we have raised lots of money.
My small company have raised over $50 million for underprivileged children in the world, and that's really a great thrill to be part of that. Through this wonderful game of golf and this tournament, it's played a very prominent part of that and has enabled me to be in a position where we could do that kind of thing.
One great memory with Arnold and Jack, we raised $15 million in Bristol, Virginia, a few years ago, which was a world record by $8million. We raised $15 million in one day for a new school. And these kids came out and said, God bless America, and said a prayer on the first tee. It's special moments that this tournament are responsible for in a certain direction.
You come back and you see this course getting more beautiful and the trees are grown up. Sam Snead at 13 said he used to tell Bobby, he used to hit over the trees, and Bobby said it's not possible. Well, the trees used to be that high.
You see the trees maturing, hole like No. 7, when I first came they were small trees on the left. It was punishing but not like now, these fully grown trees. You see the changes in the golf course, how they have changed the golf course entirely, and you see everything just getting better and better and better.
But I think it's the people that you meet here from all corners of the globe, and it's just an accumulation of a lot of wonderful, wonderful memories.
Q. You spoke earlier about the need to control nerves as a professional golfer. Just curious, one ceremonial shot on Thursday, did you expect to feel nerves?
GARY PLAYER: Very. Very. But I'm already trying to control myself. I think that's why I won a lot of tournaments, because coming down the line, I was able to control my nerves. I think genetics are an important thing in that. I really don't know the answer, but I think genetically, you've got better nerves than certain other people have.
And I was lucky to have the right genes, and I was lucky to be able to control my nerves, not on every occasion. But when I get on this first tee‑‑ I don't know what the word is‑‑ are you going to be pumped up? Are you going to be nervous? Are you going to be there with enjoyment? I think it's an accumulation of everything.
And obviously you have to feel a little bit nervous. It's on television and people are watching, and you want to hit the best drive of the three, so you have to be a little bit nervous.
Q. You've created a great South African legacy here that's carried on obviously. I'm from Australia and we have not had a champion here and it's going to be 76 years. Are you surprised by that, can we change that and how do we go about breaking the hoodoo?
GARY PLAYER: I'm such a fan of Oz, I've been there 31 times, won the Australian Open a record number of times and I've travelled right through that country for 20 pounds a game, in a hot car; 20 pounds a game, 30 dollars. In fact, it wasn't even 30 dollars in those days with the exchange.
I know Australia as well as I know anywhere in the world. You have numerous golfers. I look at a small country like South Africa, who have won more major championships than any country in the world, other than the United States postwar, which is 23 major championships. And that's not counting the seniors; that's just counting the regulars, and Australia has never won the Masters.
I think it's just one of those things. I don't know how explain that, because you produce so many, many good players. It's one of those things. And you will; you will have a champion.
Q. Given what you said before, would you be for two different balls, one for amateurs and one for professionals? And also, would you be for banning the longer putters?
GARY PLAYER: For professional golfers, I would definitely, if it was my decision, if I was making the decision on professional golfers, I would ban anything where you are anchored to your body. I would ban that, yeah, because I don't think that that ‑‑ and of course you'll be called an old poop now. You'll be criticized50 percent. It's like politics: The day you become president, 50 percent, 50 percent don't. So 50 percent will say I'm a nut.
So, so be it. That's my belief. I don't believe you should be able to anchor because it makes it much easier. And I believe that nerves, controlling your nerves are an integral part of golf. How much‑‑ what percentage, a very large percentage.
If you look back throughout time, the superstars, the superstars, of which there have been very few, let me tell you, throughout the history of the game, it's a word used very loosely.
But the superstars are the guys‑‑ look at Tiger Woods how he plays under pressure. That to me is what impresses me about Tiger Woods. That's what impresses me about Jack Nicklaus and how he played under pressure. And to control your mind and control your nerves; we just continuously make it easier and easier and the ball goes further and further. I don't know where we are going to stop. I don't know.
Q. Would you be for two different balls?
GARY PLAYER: Two balls? Definitely. Look, I mentioned this, and the R&A, which I'm a very big fan of, said that you‑‑ they are the same game.
They are not the same game. If you think they are the same game, bring an amateur to come and play against Tiger Woods, and you'll sure as hell see they are not the same game. You are oblivious to the fact that it's not the same game. It ain't the same game.
I will be the first to admit, the amateur is the heart of the game. We are just a tiny piece of the game. And you people should have all the technology and let the ball go 50 yards further now, even now, you'll hit the ball in the rough anyway; what's hell is the difference. (Laughter).
So really, what does it really matter? But for pros, if you don't, if you don't, and to make a rule that your driver has got to be 48 inches; what happens if you get a man that's seven foot tall, you tell him he's got to use a driver 48 inches, he's going to stand like this (indicating extremely hunched over). Some of these things are going to have to be changed, and change is the price of survival.
But, well, if you want to make‑‑ if you are going to keep making them long. You know, you can't go back on the streets anymore. That is the maximum now. You can't put the tees back on the streets and they are going to be hitting a driver and 8‑iron to No.2, a driver and 8‑iron. So you're going to have to slow the ball down.
And look at the cost of making the ball go further. That's the thing, the great cost that it's been. What it's done to golf, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on changing golf courses. And all you had to do was change the golf ball, and it was a mere 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, $40,000 whatever it takes, to change the ball. So economically, it wasn't a viable situation.
Q. What's your best score in the last year?
GARY PLAYER: Last year, 66. I break my age every time‑‑ well, I have every time recently, I break my age by at least five shots.
Q. Before you hit the opening tee shot on Thursday, we have the Par 3 Contest tomorrow. If you can talk about that atmosphere with Jack and Arnie and what that event means to you.
GARY PLAYER: You know, whoever thought of that idea, was very smart. Because the people, again, you've got to entertain the people. Without the people, you don't have this tournament. They just love it.
And playing with Arnold and Jack there, just‑‑ you know, it's coming to an end; and if you want to say our lives, our careers, it's the sunset. To be able to replay, it's like having a mulligan. And to be playing with them and things come back in your mind and being together and enjoying it with the people, it's a special time.
BILLY MORRIS: Last question right here.
GARY PLAYER: Don't stop them. Let them talk.
Q. What's the upper limit on shooting your age? What would be the oldest that someone has done it?
GARY PLAYER: I have a man in West Palm Beach, he's 92, and I played with him three days, four days ago. Well, he has to shoot 46 to break his age. I think he shot‑‑ he must have been six shots‑‑ he must have been three shots under his age. He had three pars.
Q. I know Canada's oldest‑working golf professional is 93 and I played with him last year and he shot 91?
GARY PLAYER: This is a common occurrence. Arnold and I played in a break‑your‑age tournament at‑‑ what do they call that place where all the homes are, the old‑age people there?
Q. The Villages.
GARY PLAYER: The Villages. Don't tell them I said that. They might think I'm old.
Anyway, we played there and we met people there that have broken their age over a thousand times, many of them. I was shocked. I didn't realize that.
BILLY MORRIS: Gary says he'll take another question or two.
Q. This Masters has been hyped with so many good players playing well. Can you remember a time coming into a Masters where everybody was playing so well?
GARY PLAYER: Yes, I can. I certainly can. We came to the Masters where people like Raymond Floyd and Billy Casper and Greg Norman and Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino and myself were all playing very well and had a chance of winning.
It's been like that. Quite honestly, if you had to take Sam Snead and Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, and they played 80 years ago or whatever they played, and you put them today with this equipment, nobody is any better than those three guys. It's just a matter of time you play with a certain type of equipment. It's always been tough. It will continue to be tough.
So this week is so exciting for me. Can you imagine seeing Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy come down the line. You think of Rory McIlroy, what he did. He made a mess of things here last year, and then to go on and win the U.S. Open like he did, that's a hallmark of a champion. And he's there consistently.
So he and Tiger coming down the line, can you imagine what an exciting tournament it's going to be. It's going to be just marvelous. Yes, it's competitive. Always has been competitive. Always will be competitive and I can't wait to see on Sunday.
Who do you think is going to win? You've been around a long time. Let me ask you a question. (Laughter).
Q. Well, my position would be Phil, only because he's been playing well for a period of time coming in.
GARY PLAYER: Yeah, he is.
Q. Where last year he played well for one tournament and didn't have it coming in here. So I would say Phil.
GARY PLAYER: Well, he's got a great chance because he's been hitting the ball very well recently, and he's got a great chance, a great chance. He loves the course.
Q. Well, who would you pick?
GARY PLAYER: Well, it's hard to go against Tiger Woods. You know, when Tiger Woods is playing his best, there's nobody better playing than Tiger Woods. When he's playing his best‑‑ we've got to be honest. It's very easy. Time makes one forget.
This man has won 14 major championships already. And he's got a great hunger, you know, only having won once in the last two years, he's got a great hunger and a great passion, and a focus that is hard to match. But golf, that little ball doesn't know that.
So I don't know how you better gauge Tiger; Rory McIlroy is there, every week. The hallmark of a champion, consistency. And Phil Mickelson is playing well.
I'm never good at picking a score or picking a winner, but there are a lot of guys in there.
Q. So you throw me under the bus, but you don't do it.
GARY PLAYER: How many times have you thrown me under the bus. (Laughter).
BILLY MORRIS: Thank you Gary, so much for a fun, delightful interview.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports