Gary Player doesn't mince words. The nine-time major winner shies away from a question as often as he once shied away from a battle on the course … which is to say, never. Reached recently at his home in South Africa, the Black Knight discussed the big 7-5, fixing Tiger's swing and why being excluded from the Ryder Cup never bothered him.
You turn 75 on November 1. How are you feeling these days?
I work all day on the ranch, I travel all around the world representing my companies, I play some events on the Tour, and I do a lot of course design all over the world. And I must say I feel as young now as I did when I was 40. But I also exercise like a fiend and I eat very well. It all goes hand in hand.
What will you do to celebrate?
I'll be in China on my birthday, at one of the golf courses I'm designing. It's at a club called Hidden Tiger, in Shanghai. We'll have a nice little meeting and I'll tell a lot of stories and it'll be a great time. As you get older, birthdays are nice, but it's not like Christmas or New Year's, you know?
Let's say as a birthday present I make you PGA Tour commissioner for a day. What changes would you make?
I would like to suggest that every pro, in his home state, has a day with junior golf, to spend the day with young boys and girls and encourage them to play golf in the future, because golf really needs a boost p.r.-wise.
The other thing I would do is, since we're in this economic crunch, we'd have two pro-ams a week like we do on the senior tour. We've got to start thinking of the public in a very strong way. At the moment, pro golfers are one of the few people who don't feel that there's a recession in the world. It's a miracle what's happening in golf. These are things that players wouldn't enjoy hearing me say, but that's what I would do.
You won nine majors on the regular tour and nine more on the senior circuit. Looking back, which of those titles is the most special?
The senior tour was a much more difficult grand slam to win than the regular grand slam. First of all, I'm the only one in the world that's ever done it. To me it was much more difficult to do because I had to do it after the age of 50, and that's not easy. Everybody's now realizing how tough the senior tour is, the standard of play. The fact that I'm the only one in the world to do it must mean it's pretty tough. I think that's my biggest thrill in golf — winning the senior grand slam.
What about an individual title? Do you have a favorite?
That's a really tough thing. I just think the grand slam on the regular tour and the grand slam on the senior tour are the two most special titles to me.
How often to you speak with Arnold and Jack today?
Quite a lot. Jack Nicklaus visits my ranch. I saw Arnold at the British Open at St. Andrews. I see them quite a bit, but I miss not seeing the more because they are two dear friends.
Tiger Woods had his worst year as a pro in 2010. Do you think he'll break Jack's record of 18 majors?
If he gets his backswing right he'll play better than he's ever played in his life. But his backswing is so pathetic, it's so bad, it's hard to play golf when you have a backswing like he has at the moment. I'm a big Tiger Woods fan, but it's very hard to play golf from the position he's in now because you hit the outside of the ball all the time, and when you hit the outside of the ball you can't play golf.
Look, Tiger Woods has got a strong enough mind, and I think his mind is strong enough to get over the problems he's had. He's got one of the strongest minds I've ever seen. The reason he's playing badly, in my opinion, is because his backswing is just really poor. And he will get the backswing right, and when he does he'll play better than he's ever played.
When was the last time you spoke to Tiger?
At Augusta. We didn't talk about much. Pleased to see you, hope you get over your problems, that sort of thing.
Do you wish you could've competed in the Ryder Cup?
I never really wished that. I was brought up not to compete in the Ryder Cup, and it just became part of my life to have nothing to do with the Ryder Cup. It never really bothered me. The Ryder Cup was one of the most boring events for many, many years — it's only started to become interesting since Europe started to beat America. Up until then it was really a one-way show. It was so one-sided, it wasn't even worth watching. And now it's become one of the most exciting events in golf. Prior to that, it was a bore.
Pro golf experienced a youth movement this season. Which young players most impress you?
Well, there's Rory McIlroy, there's Anthony Kim, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa. And most of all, Martin Kaymer. He's brilliant. I think his attitude is just phenomenal. I like his manner, and the way he shaves every day. I know today it's the style for people not to shave. I see that in all athletes. But you've got to remember that all businessmen who are writing up contracts, and companies that you're representing, they all shave. I think athletes are crazy — you've got do what the businessmen do. That's just my opinion.
Time to check in on your fitness. How many sit-ups have you done today?
I did 1,000 today.
What's your normal workout?
On my ranch I have a mountain with steps up to the top, and these steps are twice the size of a normal step. So I go up the mountain, I have a long lap pool that I use, I work out in my gym and I do sit-ups at least four times a week. But exercise is 30 percent and eating is 70 percent. I'm not a true vegetarian, but the food on my ranch is all organically grown, so there are no steroids or things like that.