The Black Knight: A "Player" Unlike Any Other

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The Black Knight: A
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

There is no doubt that Tiger Woods continues on his trek up the golf mountain. He has Nicklaus and his once thought untouchable 18 Majors squarely in his sights.

On his way to that dominance his skills have been proven to exceed that of each and every one of his peers. But more often it’s not Tiger’s skill that we marvel at. For as often as I hear anyone talk about an aspect of his game, I also hear someone bring up his fitness regiment.

It’s Master’s Thursday and I hear the experts once again taking Tiger against the field.

Although I don’t take issue with any of that, there is something I’d rather talk about. In the late 1950s through the early 1980s we went through a golden age in golf.

I want to talk about the PGA’s original fitness junkie.

You know the list.

Nicklaus.

Palmer

Trevino

Floyd

Norman

Ballasteros

Watson

Miller

Irwin

If greatness is judged in Majors these nine players account for 55 titles between them, all of them multiple Major winners.

Over the past several years we have seen several of these Legends take their final stroll up Holly and exit stage right. In 2005 it was The Bear, in 2004 The King putted out for the final time; due to health issues 2007 was probably the last time we’ll see Severiano Ballesteros depart to sign a scorecard.  

This year a man that quietly went about his business differently than those that came before him adds his name to the list of departed former champions. After 52 Masters Appearance, 73 year old Gary Player will take a final walk up the 18th at Augusta National.

Although Player’s impact is seen in the rise of his fellow country men, The Iron Goose and the Big Easy, his measure of influence runs much deeper.

Although I am sure he’ll receive the appropriate roar, I am just as sure that the Black Knight will depart down Magnolia Lane for the last time as a competitor leaving a generation of golfers with little or no understanding of how great he truly was. How much of the game as they understand was created by following his lead.

Player has quietly amassed a resume that even upon first glance would make all but a few professionals blush with jealousy.

The South African made his professional debut 1953 and joined the PGA Tour in 1957. Along with Nicklaus and Palmer he sometimes included in the group that brought professional golf to the masses via television in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Although Player is now 73 and continues to be a great ambassador to the game I am not sure people realize that he was the Tiger Woods of his era. Player’s work out routine defied the logic of his time.

When Player at the age of 26 he won his first Masters, and second Major Championship they said he’s never last.

Then seventeen years later he put the finish touches on Master’s number three, and Major number 9. So there went that theory.

The Black Knight, one of the games true gentlemen and every bit the quiet contemporary of the giants of the sport has won 163 (ranking him third all time behind Roberto de Vicenzo (230 –best can tell) and Sam Snead (165)) events over the course of his prestigious career.

Lets put that in perspective shall we, I know it was a different world and do I by no means look to belittle others. But Tigers Woods has won 90 times in his career. I am not making the argument that Player is better than Tiger Woods simply showing you how good Player was.

In fact Jack Nicklaus who competed in Player’s era and until Tiger was clearly regarded as the greatest of all time has 113 professional wins.

Now clearly the 18 Majors are what distinguish Jack. But Player to his credit trails only the Legends of the game named Nicklaus, Woods, and Hagan when it comes to Majors.

The South African has put his name on the board with nine to equal the Great Ben Hogan. He has more of the most coveted trophies in golf than Watson, Palmer, Miller, Nelson, Trevino, Snead and Jones.

If you look at today’s game, his finger prints are all over it. The best players in the world have followed suit in training their bodies as well as their swings. No longer do golfers that resemble Craig Stadler take home weekly checks for first place.

Even his dress has been copied and mimicked. The tight fitting shirts of today’s PGA stars all got their start on the back of the South African dressed in black. What was once seen as exotic flare, is now common place. Even if you’ve never seen Gary Player on the golf course his effect on the game is right before your eyes.

This week he tips it up for his 52 and final time at Augusta National. Even Gary has said he’d like to live to 100, but let’s make sure we give him the respect he deserves, during “A tradition unlike any other,” let’s celebrate an individual that paved his own way and defied convention as well, he was undoubtedly “a Player unlike any other.”

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