My First Open
Gary Player competed at his first Open at Royal Liverpool in 1956
Gary Player
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Royal Liverpool 1956

He’s one of the game’s true greats that will be remembered for generations to come, but for three-time Champion Golfer of the Year Gary Player, his Open journey all started at Royal Liverpool.

It was back in 1956 when Player first graced the greens of the famous old course, bursting on to the scene with a memorable performance that indelibly etched his name into the broader golfing discourse.

Player finished fourth that year, shooting two impressive rounds of 71 on both the first and last days to see him end at +7, five shots behind eventual Champion Peter Thomson.

The precocious Player was just 20 upon making his Open debut, bringing a conspicuous sense of youthful exuberance to Merseyside just three years into his burgeoning professional career.

And that attitude served him unequivocally well in the competition, storming to an impressive final finish after four compelling days of action.

Sleeping in the sand

But it wasn’t all that straightforward for Player, who – after lifting the Claret Jug at Muirfield in 1959 – was transformed from a young golfing prodigy with lofty ambitions to a name in the sport that nobody could overlook.

“The Open Championship is without a question the greatest challenge of any tournament on this planet,” the South African reflected.

“You have got to have extraordinary patience, you have got to have courage and if you feel sorry for yourself, you might as well pack your bags and leave. 

“But when you have a desire and a passion, the path along the way is not that difficult really.

“Why would somebody as small as me, as poor as I was, from a small country become a world champion? 

“Sleeping in the sand dunes and having not much money in my pocket and not having clothes (when I first arrived in England), that was immaterial because there was thing at the back of my mind. I want to be the best player in the world.” gary player, three-time champion golfer

Early promise

Player’s rise to the top was meteoric, taking him just four Opens to adjust to the idiosyncratic demands of the format as he held off competition from Fred Bullock and Flory Van Donck in 1959 to carve his name onto the Claret Jug.

But his first Open was far from a sobering learning experience, as Player went toe-to-toe with some of the game’s greats at Royal Liverpool in a stunning debut performance in the north-west.

Player went round in 71 shots on the opening day, an even-par score in unfavourable conditions that saw him lying t-7th at the close alongside Van Donck, Angel Miguel, Roberto De Vicenzo and Carlos Celles.

The South African struggled more on the second day of the competition, shooting five-over to end seven shots shy of leader Thomson going into the two-round final day, as the likes of De Vicenzo, Miguel and Van Donck climbed the leaderboard.

Player’s third-round performance was more promising, however, as he shot an improved 73 to narrowly reduce his deficit and enter the final 18 eight strokes behind Thomson.

And, despite his brilliance in waltzing round in 71 once again, it was the Australian who held on to dash the hopes of the 20-year-old and the rest of the chasing pack.

Blazing a trail

Of course, Player went on to permanently enter the terrain of golfing greatness, becoming immortal after Muirfield in 1959 before clinching further Claret Jugs in Carnoustie in 1968 and Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1974.

And those three historic triumphs constitute an integral part of Player’s nine major crowns, a total that makes him the sport’s joint-fourth most decorated man – along with Ben Hogan – behind the American triumvirate of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Walter Hagen.

The platform on which such a success was based was built years before however, with Player’s Open odyssey having begun at Royal Liverpool in 1956.