I love competing against Jack and Arnie at the Par 3 Contest. Jack was two shots ahead of me with two holes to go, and I went par-birdie and he went bogey-double. It’s always been a very healthy competition amongst us: we wanted to beat each other, but no matter the outcome, we always had smiles on our faces. Jack in particular was the greatest gentleman I ever played golf with. He came up to me after I beat him at the Match Play one year and said, “Gee, you deserved to win.” He probably knew that he was going to beat you the next time out.
It’s a completely different game today. The three of us used to travel the world together playing televised exhibition matches. Nobody does that anymore. South America. Europe. Asia. That’s how we all became such good friends, we spent so much time on the road together. Now, everyone travels in their own planes. We stayed at each other’s houses and went on hunting trips together and fishing trips together and stayed on ranches together and went down gold mines together. In that way, we’ve been together forever.
It’s nice that I can still be competitive at 78. People are always asking me, ‘Do you think Tiger Woods is injured because he worked out too hard?’ I’ve never heard such crap in my life! When I started working out with heavy weights in 1953, people said, ‘Gary Player will be finished.’ I was the laughing stock of the tour. Now I’m laughing at them. I won a tournament when I was 63. On Tuesday, I pushed 300 pounds with my legs, and yesterday I went out played very well, shot a 1-under on the Par 3. They all told me I wouldn’t be able to walk at this age!
Now, if you don’t work out, you’ll be left out. It’s already starting to take place. I played with Dustin Johnson earlier this week, and on the par-5 No. 13, he hit a driver and a 9-iron, They’re already making my generation look like Mickey Mouse hitters! And in 40 years time, when people like LeBron James and Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal start to play golf, they’re gonna hit it 400 yards! Mark my words.
Gary Player will be sharing his thoughts on the Masters and recounting his adventures at Augusta National for Golf.com throughout the week. You can follow him @garyplayer.