Less than a month short of his 85th birthday, Gary Player, a.k.a. the Black Knight, still looks as fit as he had in his seven decades as one of golf’s great ambassadors.
Dressed in his usual black, going without a sports jacket despite a bit of a chill, Player stopped off Saturday at Aronimink Golf Club to watch the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and reminisce about winning the PGA Championship at the course in 1962.
During the pandemic, Player has halted his globetrotting ways. He and his wife, Vivienne, who is battling pancreatic cancer, are staying in Schwenksville with their daughter, Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, and his seven grandchildren. He also is checking out Philadelphia area golf courses.
“Honest to goodness, now that I’ve been here for six months and playing all these different golf courses, what a state,” he said. "What a beautiful state, and magnificent golf courses.
“I’ve been playing Merion. I’ve been playing Pine Valley. I’ve been playing Aronimink, the Trump golf course [Friday] in Bedminster [N.J.], all these fantastic golf courses. They’ve got so many wonderful golf courses here. It’s been an absolute privilege.”
A club member said Player has played Aronimink “eight to 10 times” in recent months. It was there he won the PGA and the princely sum of $13,000. Sunday’s winner of the KPMG Women’s PGA will take home $645,000.
“I had a putt here the other the other day, the exact putt I had when I won, when I beat Bob Goalby, my friend,” he said. “I said, ‘How lucky am I.’ I’m very grateful to be standing here very strong and fit. Gratitude is a terribly important thing in life. How lucky am I to be here putting the same putt I did 58 years ago.”
Player, who turns 85 on Nov. 1, began competing in the area in 1957, playing at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club on the PGA Tour and later at Chester Valley Golf Club and TPC at Jasna Polana on the Senior Tour.
A South African, he is the only non-American to capture the career Grand Slam, winning nine majors in all, including three Masters. He has won 165 tournaments around the world, including 24 on the PGA Tour, and 19 on the Senior Tour.
Player said he is delighted to see the women playing courses such as Aronimink in the Women’s PGA, layouts that have hosted major championships.
“They’re steeped in tradition and history, with the men’s U.S. Open and PGA have been taking place,” he said. “So it’s wonderful to see the ladies playing these same golf courses as well, because it’s going to improve their game. When you leave here, you really learn something about shot-making and using the mind.”
The 5-foot-6 Player said one of his most enjoyable rounds came when he played with Charles Barkley at Commonwealth National in Horsham, where he quipped at one point, “You were my size when you were five.”
“I’ve met a lot of professional athletes in my life,” he said. “He might be the greatest gentleman that I’ve played with. He’s also a very humble man. He’s a very knowledgeable man, and he’s an appreciative man. He said to me, ‘This has been one of my bucket lists, to play with you.' I said, 'Charles, it’s been one of my bucket lists to play with you.’”
Of course, playing as much golf as he has recently, Player had to let his old friend and rival, Jack Nicklaus, know about it.
“I was on the phone to him two nights ago,” Player said, "and he says, ‘How much golf do you play?’ And I said, ‘Man, I’m playing every day I can.’ He says ‘I’ve played five times in the last two months.’ But if you look at my shape, compared to his …
“You’ve got to keep moving, man.”