Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fit for 51: Player to Tee It Up for Masters Record; Current Players Marvel at the South African Legend's Longevity

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Fit for 51: Player to Tee It Up for Masters Record; Current Players Marvel at the South African Legend's Longevity

Article excerpt

Byline: GARRY SMITS

PALM COAST - Ian Woosnam put the Masters Tournament record Gary Player will break in two weeks in perspective.

"I'm 50 years of age, and he's played there 51 years," he said of Player, who will break the record for the most starts at Augusta National he currently shares with Arnold Palmer. "It is mind-boggling."

Player prefers to think of it in terms of the body rather than the mind - although he said intangibles such as determination and perseverance certainly come into play.

To live long enough to have played the Masters 51 times, at the age of 72, is something Player credits to his lifelong obsession with physical fitness.

Winning the tournament in 1961 - he was the first international champion at Augusta - gave Player his lifetime ticket to keep coming back. But his fitness and young-at-heart attitude are the main reasons he's kept coming back ... and back ... and back.

This year also is the 30th anniversary of Player's final Masters title in 1978, when he shot a final-round 64, capped by a 22-foot downhill putt at the 72nd hole to win by one shot - after he began the day trailing by seven.

"I'm thrilled to be playing for the 51st time, and it's working for 63 years on my fitness that has helped give me the longevity," he said Thursday during a news conference at the Ocean Hammock Golf Club, site of this week's Ginn Championship. "I remember being ridiculed [for working out obsessively]. People thought I was a nut. But a lot of them probably wish they had started doing the same thing back then."

Player remembers working out in an Augusta, Ga., YMCA in 1961, the year he won his first Masters. A noted golf-course architect saw him working out, and told people that the regime would keep Player from being a champion golfer.

"Now we've got Tiger Woods, who I saw working out in a gym in Dubai at 6 a.m., when he was teeing off at 1 p.m.," Player said. "I never worked out before I played a round. I would always give my body a chance to recover. But if that architect had seen Tiger Woods, he would have fainted."

And the architect's prediction for Player's career couldn't have been more mistaken. Player was the last golfer before Woods to win the career professional Grand Slam (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship), and he's also the only man to have added the Senior U.S. Open, Senior PGA, Senior British Open and the Senior Players Championship.

Among other honors in Player's Hall of Fame career are 24 PGA Tour titles, 19 Champions Tour titles and 176 worldwide victories.

Player's latest honor will come when he merely tees a ball up and hits his first shot April 10 at Augusta National.

"Just going to Augusta is an honor, never mind winning it three times," he said. "The beauty of the golf course is so magnificent. The cheering. …

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