Fresh off his recent trip to Augusta, Georgia for The Masters and the first of four Gary Player Invitational events of 2014, golf icon Gary Player ventured back to the area as 54 of the top junior golfers from around the world compete at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley this week. Player was the guest speaker for the tournament's Opening Ceremony and left all in attendance amazed.
Winner of 165 worldwide tournaments and the Grand Slam on the regular and Champions Tour, Player had plenty of advice for the participants and guests from his career that has spanned over six decades.
True to Player's personality, the crowd was entertained throughout. To the tune of Paul Simon's "I Know What I Know," Player swept up ladies from the crowd to dance as he moved to the stage. His reasoning? "Happiness is contagious," laughed Player.
There was plenty for all involved to be happy about as the Junior Invitational, which has been consistently voted the number one tournament in junior golf by Golfweek, welcomed the best 54 amateur boys in the world to compete, including 13 players from nine countries outside of the United States. Competitor Keegan De Lange hails from the Black Knight's home country of South Africa.
Reflecting on his career, Player told stories of his early career, including his first trip abroad as a professional to the Open Championship at St. Andrews when he had to sleep in a dune because he could not afford a hotel room. He kept everyone in attendance in hysterics, but also made sure to pass along the message of gratitude.
"Mr. Fitness" displayed his legendary fitness as he challenged the young men to join him on stage for a friendly competition to see if anyone could match his feat of holding two drivers parallel to the ground by just using his pointer and middle finger. No volunteers could, but Player made sure that they realized the importance of fitness in golf and in life.
Aside from golf and fitness advice, the Black Knight made sure that everyone was grateful for they have in their lives, stating many in the world are without a shower, a TV, and three meals a day. On the progression of golf, Player stated how fortunate the young golfers are today as they hopefully have the opportunity to compete on the professional tours of today, which have grown to offer weekly first place prizes over $1 million.
"We are so lucky that we have wonderful governing bodies and sponsors that have made it possible for professional golfers to compete for millions at each tournament," said Player. "But to make it, you've got to work harder than everyone else. And you have to want it."
"All I hear about is 'some of these junior boys are hitting the ball 320 yards'," exclaimed Player. "That's not what wins the tournaments. If somebody would just say to me, 'you should see this junior at my club. He's got a mind like Tiger Woods. He's got such a focus, like Tiger Woods. He's got a short game like Tiger Woods.' But I never hear that, never. That's what wins golf tournaments. It's all the putting, the chipping, the bunker shot, and the wedges. Seventy percent of shots in golf are played from 100 yards in."
To end on, Player made sure to pass along the educational message he's learned in his career to the juniors before they head out of compete in the 4th annual Junior Invitational, presented by Electrolux, on Thursday.
"Golf's a game that teaches you manners. It teaches you to win, and it teaches you to lose. You're going to lose a lot more than you're going to win," he said. "All in all, it's an education. Golf is a miraculous sport, and I wish you all luck this week."
The Junior Invitational will be held April 24th-26th at the renowned Sage Valley Golf Club in Graniteville, SC.
About Gary Player
Gary Player, often referred to as the Black Knight, symbolizes all that world-class golf is or was ever intended to be. A champion in every sense of the word, he has won 165 professional tournaments worldwide and through the philanthropic efforts of his foundation generated over $50 million dollars for the education of underprivileged children. Player, a master of the game and a world leader in golf course design, is credited with shaping more than 325 courses worldwide.
When Gary Player won the US Open in 1965 at age 29, he became only the third golfer to win the Grand Slam, following Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. Since then, only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have added their names to this elite group. Player has, to date, won nine major championships on the regular PGA TOUR and nine on the Senior or Champions Tour. He is a three time President's Cup Captain and in 2000 received South Africa's Sportsman of the Century Award.
In addition to his 40 years of golf course design, Player currently serves as the Global Ambassador to the World Golf Hall of Fame and holds an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from St. Andrews University. His legendary career and humanitarian endeavors have been acknowledged through numerous awards, including the 2012 PGA TOUR Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2006 PGA TOUR Payne Stewart Award, and the 2003 Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Player has circled the globe in pursuit of sporting events, and after journeying over 15 million miles (or 25 million kilometers) he is widely recognized as The World's Most Traveled Athlete. When not traveling to or from sporting events, Player divides his time between the South African stud farm, where he has bred more than 2,000 winning thoroughbred racehorses, and his residence on Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound, Fla.
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