Three-time Open champ Gary Player on what it takes to win on links, Tiger vs. Jack vs. Watson and more

Three-time Open champ Gary Player on what it takes to win on links, Tiger vs. Jack vs. Watson and more

Gary Player won his first Claret Jug when the Open Championship was hosted at Muirfield in 1959.
Courtesy of Gary Player

Gary Player conquered Muirfield in 1959 for his first major victory and second PGA Tour win. That win jumpstarted a Hall of Fame career that includes nine majors, 24 PGA Tour wins and one nude cover of ESPN The Magazine. Here's Player reflecting on his experiences in the British Open, what it takes to win on links golf and the photos that put his body in the spotlight.

What does it take to be successful in the links style golf of the Open Championship?
Players have to be able to adapt very well to changing conditions to win an Open Championship. Over the course of just one round, let alone four, you can see wind change direction countless times and the weather is so unpredictable. The Open Championship has always been my favorite because the field truly represents the best golfers around the world – it is by far the most international field of the majors. The caliber of winners is always fantastic.

Is there someone on Tour now whose game fits Muirfield nicely that you would pick to win?
I believe there are a number of players whose game could certainly be a fit for Muirfield, including Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker and Ernie Els. Muirfield has a history of having the world’s top golfers rise to victory there. When you look at it, the winners at Muirfield have collectively won over 51 major championships. Regardless of who wins at Muirfield, they will be in great company.

How about a dark horse pick?
I would say that Nicolas Colsaerts has a great chance to break out and do well at the Open Championship this year. He is a spectacular young up-and-comer that has played well on links style courses. He finished in the top 10 for last year’s Open Championship, as well as this year’s US Open. I like his chances.

Of your three victories, is there a memory that stands out as a favorite?
Winning the Open Championship in three different decades is certainly something that makes me very proud. My victory in 1959 at Muirfield was something that I will never forget. It was my first Major Championship. I consider it the start of my career. After that victory, I knew that I had what it takes to win Majors, and it was the first step to eventually winning the Grand Slam.

Is there one shot you would want to have back from any of your British Open appearances?
Perhaps the shot that caused me the greatest amount of agony at the time was my six during the 1959 final round on number 18. A par-4 was all I needed to be Open Champion. I hit a perfectly reasonable drive down the left side, planning to fade it back into the middle. It did not fade as much as I had told it to and caught the left side bunker. I then hit two six-irons to the front of the green, which I then three-putted. That one hole and tee shot that just caught the fairway bunker nearly botched my round that had been great leading up to that point. I was nearly inconsolable from the sheer disappointment and anger with myself. In the end though, despite my six on 18, I won the Open Championship. I just had to wait for two hours thinking I had blown my chance.

Tiger vs. Jack. vs. Watson on the links in each of their prime. Who wins?
Tiger, Jack and Tom Watson are all great links golfers. I would have to pick Tom Watson. He has proved himself over and over again at the Open Championship. You cannot argue with five Open Championship victories and three Senior Open Championship victories. I was most impressed by his performance at the 2009 Open when nearly won at age 59, finishing second after a four-hole playoff.

Regarding ESPN's 'Body Issue,' are you happy with the way your photos came out? Were the poses your idea?
Yes. The photos came out tastefully – artistic and creative. The poses were a combination of suggestions from Peter Hapak, the photographer, and the black golf ball, Charles Atlas-like pose was a concept from my son, Marc.

What has the response been? How about from your grandchildren?
Overwhelmingly positive. Certainly, when you do something like this at my age, you expect some people to question why. However, we expected more negativity. I am delighted by how the public has responded overall. My 10-year-old grandson Damian was so impressed and even told his dad that he needed to start doing more sit-ups himself.

Looking back, would you do it again? What were the best/worst parts of doing the photo shoot?
I think this is a one off project for ESPN, but I have no regrets and hope it inspires some people, young and old. The shoot was in a studio in Miami and was great fun. Cool music, good food, and a great vibe. Obviously being naked in front of 25 people takes getting used to, but everyone from the ESPN crew made me feel welcomed and relaxed. They were true professionals.

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