Gary Player strolls warmly down Carnoustie memory lane
The fairway at the 14th hole of Carnoustie still gives Gary Player goosebumps.
It is the scene of one of the greatest shots in the South African’s illustrious career and one of the most iconic in the history of The Open.
Player entered the final round at Carnoustie during The 97th Open in 1968 two shots off the lead on level par and was in the penultimate group with Jack Nicklaus.
Billy Casper and Bob Charles, the 1963 Champion Golfer of the Year, were both under-par but, by the turn, all four were in contention for the Claret Jug.
And with his ball well placed on the fairway at the 14th, Player picked up a three wood and took aim at the centre of the green, into the wind and over the iconic Spectacles bunkers.
In a moment of pure magic, the South African not only cleared the bunkers and found the green – his ball finished just inches from the hole and he would make a crucial eagle.
“The shot I hit a fourteen, I’ll never forget that,” said the 82-year-old. “I went to see where I played from recently to refresh this wonderful memory.
“I got quite choked because it was 50 years ago but it seems like yesterday, and I stood there in awe and I said, ‘The only way I could hit a shot like that is by a divine intervention’.
“I’m not that good that I can hit a shot into the wind, the ball travels 260 yards and I’m not that good that I could do that, and I did choke up, and I’m very, very thankful.
“Playing the 14th hole on that last day, I hit the best shot of my life, and the best shot I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Player had already been a Champion Golfer of the Year after success in Muirfield in 1959 and, after Carnoustie, he enjoyed an incredible third Open Championship win in 1974.
Success at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s made him the first man to win The Open in three different decades and it’s the Championship that remains close to his heart.
“Obviously I was very honoured, I was very excited to win my third Open which I consider the most important tournament over the world, it’s the greatest test in golf,” he added.
“I read about Ben Hogan winning the tournament in 1953, and I turned pro in 1953, so I read about Carnoustie and thought ‘Oh I’d love to play there one day’, let alone win the Open there.
“When you win it, for a third time, and this is not the kind of tournament you just go on winning, so the word that comes to mind is gratitude, extreme gratitude.”
Carnoustie sits on an exposed stretch of the Angus coast in Scotland and is renowned for being a real test for even the world’s best players, especially with the wind.
But 50 years ago, Player managed to tame the links course and knows the full range of skills that will be required in July when The 147th Open is decided.
He said: “You’ve got to play shots in the Open that you’d never play in any of the majors.
“You’ve got to play different kinds of shots, sometimes you’ve got to use your putter 15 yards off the green.
“One day you hit a drive with a wedge, and the next day you hit a drive with a three iron at the same hole, so you got to have a lot of instinct, a lot of natural balance and good eye sight.
“You’ve got to have incredible patience, and you’ve got to have good eyes and you’ve got to know how to decide on the right club for the second shot.”
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