Gary Player's Greatest Open Moments
As a three-time Champion Golfer of the Year, with 12 top-ten finishes and 46 consecutive Open appearances, Gary Player has unsurprisingly had his share of iconic moments at golf's oldest major.
From his debut at Royal Liverpool in 1956 – where he slept in the dunes because he couldn’t find a cheap room – to his emotional final appearance at Royal Lytham in 2001 where he was treated like royalty, Player has experienced it all.
The South African is inextricably linked with The Open and, in the week he turned 83 years old, we’ve picked out five of his greatest moments.
The final-round charge
Player already had a fourth-place finish on debut and a seventh two years later by the time he arrived at Muirfield for his fourth Open in 1959.
Rounds of 75, 71 and 70 meant he was barely in the conversation of potential winners ahead of Friday afternoon’s final round – lying tied tenth, a full four strokes behind leaders Fred Bullock and Sam King.
Bu that’s when Player really kick-started his Open legend, methodically attacking the course to move to six-under par for his round through 17 holes.
A double bogey on the 18th could have scuppered his chances but so brilliant was the rest of his final 18 that he still finished two strokes ahead of Bullock and Belgium’s Flory Van Donck to lift the Claret Jug for the first time – becoming the youngest Champion Golfer of the modern era at 23 years old.
Taking on ‘the Spectacles’
In golf, it takes just one moment of genius to be remembered forever and for Player, that came during The Open of 1968 as he stood over his second shot at Carnoustie’s par-five 14th.
It’s a daunting shot to this day as the twin bunkers, the Spectacles, that guard the green are every player’s nightmare – with their depth and breadth capable of pinning a player down for several shots.
But Player, with The Open on the line, launched all he had into his swing and connected perfectly. His three-wood hurled the ball with such force that the powerful Angus wind could not knock it off course.
The ball just carried the Spectacles, landed perfectly on the green and rolled within two feet of the hole.
An eagle was completed, and shortly after the Claret Jug was his again for what the man himself would call his “best Open victory” as he matched Ben Hogan’s achievement from 15 years prior.
Another soaring eagle
In 1974, Player was desperately trying to match Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor as the only men to win the Open in three separate decades.
On the final day at Royal Lytham, he did his chances no harm on the sixth hole as he continued to battle the treacherous, gusty conditions.
He hammered his iron shot into the heart of the green and produced a nerveless putt that secured a momentous eagle which, coupled with three birdies in his first seven holes, helped to hold a chasing pack at bay.
‘Hold it a minute’
Despite his blistering start and eagle at the sixth, Player’s job wasn’t done as he came up the 18th at Lytham in 1974.
He’d already had a couple of bogeys in the previous three holes, a long search for his ball in the rough at the 17th and was hoping just to fall over the line.
He hit his approach through the back of the green, which put him inches from the clubhouse and left him with almost no shot.
As the right-hander contemplated his next move he snapped at the moving, murmuring crowd behind him to ‘hold it a minute, please’ before – ever the improviser – he produced a left-handed putt into the heart of the green and completed the hole to secure a third Claret Jug.
The Black Knight rides one last time
There was no venue more fitting for Player’s Open swansong than Royal Lytham and St Annes, so The Open of 2001 provided the perfect farewell to one of the Championship’s greats.
The 66-year-old competed at golf’s oldest Major for a record 46th consecutive year and the crowd greeted him like royalty every step of the way.
He produced a memorable sand save for a bunker and a number of other impressive shots as glimpses of the old magic still shone through.
Player would ultimately miss the cut for a sixth successive year but he fittingly holed his final putt to bow out on a high on the course where he became Champion Golfer for the third time.