Every week I will introduce you to one of the golf tips, tricks or drills that I use to help my clients play better golf. If you find my ideas and methods have helped your game as well, please email me with your story. Feel free to ask, if you have a question.
In this age where success is judged less by someone’s skill and record of achievement, and more by their number of followers on Facebook and Twitter, I find it very frustrating that so few golfers are even aware that some of the greatest players of this game even existed. When I mention names like Nicklaus, Palmer, Sneed, and Trevino to most clients these days, even those who are over 40, I usually receive a blank-faced shrug of incomprehension. Even Tiger Woods is less remembered for his stellar playing record, than for his embarrassing fall from grace. When I was a junior golfer, we learned by watching these great players – and there is much to be gained by looking at them today. By modern standards, many didn’t have perfect swings, but they all found a way to play world-class golf. Over the next few weeks, I will remember some stars of the past, and then pick out a few things that we can all learn from their games. Let’s begin with Gary Player.
The winner of 165 tournaments worldwide, over five decades, Mr Player is regarded as one of the greatest players in golf history. He has won nine Majors, nine Senior Majors, and at the age of just 29, he achieved the career “Grand Slam” of being a winner of all four Majors. He pioneered fitness training in golf (see picture one) and his incredible longevity allowed him to become the only “modern day” player, to win the British Open Championship in three different decades. He is also the winner of tournaments in 28 consecutive years, eleven more than the next best placed golfer. Mr Player’s record is extraordinary, particularly, when you realise that he is just 5’7” tall, and yet in his day he was pound-for-pound, the longest hitter on tour. Secondly, he had to travel to most tournaments from his home in South Africa, at a time when those flights took 20+ hours. As a result of his determination to win, he is also the World’s Most Travelled Athlete with over 15 million air miles!
What we can learn from Gary Player
The first word that springs to mind is “Belief”. Player almost invented the fist-pump and he used it frequently, not as a talisman, but in a very genuine reaction to the emotions he was feeling. Whereas "Seve" Ballesteros punched the air in wild delight, Player’s punch was a fiercer, more contained affair. You could imagine him whispering, “I knew I could win, I knew I could win!” and he did win. Combined with his unshakeable belief in his own ability was a phenomenal work ethic; it is unlikely that any professional worked harder on his game. His fitness was legendary and so was his shortgame; Player is still ranked as one of the best bunker players of all time. Most recreational golfers would benefit from a little coaching and some serious bunker practice. When a spectator commented that Player had got lucky when he holed a bunker shot, the diminutive South African politely countered, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Because of his small stature, Player is a great example of correctly swinging the club from the ground up – or to put it another way, using every muscle in his body in the correct sequence, from the feet up to the hands. He had two signature moves that most golfers would do well to copy. First, he began his swing by moving his weight slightly towards the target, and then away. He did this with a little kick of his right knee. At the top of the backswing, he was coiled behind the ball, and at the end of the swing, his weight was so committed to his left side that he frequently took a small step towards the target (his second signature move). You can replicate his excellent footwork by finishing every swing in balance, with all of your weight on your target foot, and having the trail foot up on its toe, as Player is doing in picture 2.
Self-belief, willpower, keep fit, practice, and swing the club from the ground up; there are thousands of things we can learn from Gary Player, but start with those five and you’ll do just fine!