The little man in the black shirt and black trousers and while cap was practicing golf shots. He had stationed his caddie 200 yards down the practice fairway at the Houghton golf course in Johannesburg, which is in South Africa, that rich, loamy, exciting, depressing, spirited, tormented land, and now he was putting one shot after another between the caddie's legs. Byron Nelson used to say that accuracy was knocking your ball boy down with a shot and then landing three more on his head before he could get up, and that is what would have happened if this caddie had not been alert.
The presence of the little man had drawn a semicircle of admirers, some of them black Africans, or "nonwhites" in the lexicon of South African municipal sign painters. Apartheid-enforced separation of the races—is the official policy in South Africa, but what is actually practiced there is a caste system. The signs in restaurants and at teller windows may separate, but elbows and interests rub all the time and there is an obvious interdependence. In the case of this golfer, black hands reach out to him as eagerly as do white.
They called him "Geddy," the privileged among the admirers, who were carrying on with the little man hitting the balls. They admired his precision, joked with him, offered him tips. If it burdened his concentration, Gary Player did not let on. He encouraged the colloquy. He listened attentively to all the advice. In that respect he is cousin to the hacker, for he will investigate every piece of fribbling criticism from every fly-by-night critic. His father, his father-in-law and his wife happen to be fine golfers and he listens to them, but then if a total stranger tells him he is setting his eyebrow all wrong for the downswing he sincerely wants to know which eyebrow. What he sifts and applies to his exceptional talent for directing a golf ball is, however, quite another matter. He clicked off one impeccable shot after another as he talked. "I am hitting the ball so well it scares me," he said. He often says this, with good reason.
The man in the circle nearest the golfer was Harry (Whiskey) Player. He is the little man's father, and he is twice Gary's size. He looks like Victor McLaglen—same baggy eyes, lump nose, sloping bearlike body. Same delightful McLaglen laugh that, once begun, dwindles only when all the breath is gone from the body. Whiskey Player made his living 10,000 feet underground for 30 years, and when he came up he had a gold miner's pension and a hard case of phthisis. He can speak English, Afrikaans (the language of the ruling Boers, a sort of pidgin Dutch) and six native languages, including Zulu, Sesuthu and Hosa.
May 22, 1966
There was a time, some years ago, when Whiskey Player was the only gallery Gary had. He slogged faithfully along beside him then and has never to this day been far removed from his son's shoulder, hovering there like a giant Mpundulu bird even when bullied by the excited crowds at places like St. Andrews, Aronimink and Augusta. The Mpundulu is the Zulu bird of conscience, and that is what the old man is. He searches for the flaws and leads the cheers—"Geddy, that's the finest golf shot you ever made," and, "Geddy, if you live to be a thousand you will never hit it any better"—and makes himself handy for those rare moments when Gary Player needs somebody to snap at.
Whiskey Player got his name as a young man of action at a downtown Johannesburg hotel years ago. He had led a delegation of miners into the hotel to celebrate the impending marriage of one of their number and, when refused anything appropriate to celebrate with, he clambered up on the table and shouted, "We want whiskey!" "All of us Players were high-strung," he said as he stood watching his son practice. "That's the-fantastic thing about Geddy, the way he has mastered himself. I would have flapped. I would have had my chips under all that pressure. Not him. Oh, when it was just the two of us out there we bloody well had our fights, all right. He'd tell me he couldn't make it, and I'd tell him he was talking rot. I'd tell him he was falling back off his shots, and he'd say, 'I don't want to hear it,' and I'd say, 'Well, the hell with you,' and then later he'd put his arm around me and kiss me and say, 'I'm sorry, Dad, I just got to explode sometime and you are the only one who can take it!' " Gary Player says no one ever had a father like Whiskey Player.
Near the conversation but ignoring it as they played with two Negro boys were the sons of Gary Player—Mark, age 5, and Wayne, 4. Markie and Waynee, he calls them. They were occupied with a plastic gun that shot little pellets of potato. Mark extracted the pellets from a huge baking potato he was carrying by digging the barrel of the gun into the potato. Gary paused between shots to caution Mark not to kill anybody and to let the other hoys have a turn. Mark handed over the gun to one of the native boys.
Gary Player can he quippish at these relaxed times and at the asking will do an acrobatic imitation of Arnold Palmer's powerful, contorted golf swing. On the follow-through he rolls and jerks his head in the Palmer manner—a rooster trying to follow the flight of the ball, first with one eye, then the other. Player did a rubber-leg, quaking-voice Elvis Presley for an American television audience some time ago, and friends who saw it said he would be a regular in Johannesburg if South Africa only had television. Reasons why it does not, in an otherwise modern, prospering society, are not altogether clear, but they probably have to do with the Boers' protective attitude toward their language—only two million Afrikaners are left in the world—and the strong suspicion of the Dutch Reformed Church that television is corrupting. One political party campaigned during the last election on a pro-TV platform. It did not win many votes.
But now, with this intimate group, Gary Player was talking about himself. The subject happens to be a serious one with him because Gary Player is a simple man, and the simple man in him is larger than the celebrity he has become. It continually struggles for expression. In large measure he reflects the mood of his country: sensitive to criticism, fiercely proud of achievement but not fully understanding the implications of it, craving solitude but wanting to be heard, fearful that in trying to please he will please not—that he will be misunderstood or misinterpreted—perplexed that he does not know all the answers. The trouble was, somebody said, that he tried too hard, that he wanted everybody to like him. Player straightened. When he is intent the dark brown eyes that glow through the billows of his heavy lashes become perfectly round and, with his short black hair combed straight up, they give him a look of protracted astonishment. "Don't you?" he said. "My word, don't you want everybody to like you?"
He said that his worst moments, the times he seemed to please least, were here in South Africa, in his own country that he loves so much. He said it was a bloody discouraging thing. When he wore flashy clothes, people said he was "ostentatious." When he wore black, people said why not white? And when he wore white, people wanted to know what he was selling, ice cream or bus tickets? Why did he have to have that great big Cadillac car? That big house? He said he thought some people actually wanted him to lose. He said he could not appreciate the theory that it was natural for sporting people to pull for an underdog (Harold Henning is currently No. 1 underdog to top-dog Player in South Africa, and Henning is handsome and well liked), because that meant discounting the time and the energy and the hard work it takes for a man to get to the top. A man like Ben Hogan, for example. "I would always root for a man like Hogan," he said. "A man who works at the game. Any man who thinks he can be a golfer without working at it has bloody cheek."
And then there was this thing with Papwa. Sewsunker Sewgolum, called Papwa, is a South African of Indian descent—designated "colored" in the country's prismatic social structure—who has been competing with whites there for some time despite laws that prohibit race mixing in sports. In a recent tournament in Germiston, Papwa's Indian supporters among a finely marbled gallery of black, colored and white became unruly, kicking balls around and making a lot of noise. The government declared Papwa ineligible to play in white tournaments. Player was approached for comment in the heart of the tournament by a writer friend, John Hildyard of the Johannesburg Star. "I don't know, John, what should I say?" Player asked. Hildyard suggested he just say that golf was his game, not politics. "That should not offend anybody," said Hildyard.
But the reply did offend—or at least got caught in the crusader's craw of—an opposition newspaper's woman columnist, Molly Reinhardt, the Dorothy Kilgallen of South Africa. Molly seized the opportunity to tee off on Player for not standing up for Papwa. Player tried painfully hard to make plain his belief that the Verwoerd government is doing the best it can in a difficult situation. He called Molly Reinhardt a "sweet old lady." Molly pounced on that one, too. She now had the most popular South African name in the world on the tip of her épée, and her readership soared. She said she did not mind being called old, or a lady, but sweet she never was. Letters to the editor, pro Player and con, glutted the mails and were run every Sunday under a streamer, MOLLY-GARY LETTERS.
"What you should have called her," said a man in the group watching Player hit practice shots, "was not a sweet old lady. You should have called her an ugly old hag. People would have understood that."
But name-calling is not one of Gary Player's accomplishments. Nor is a comprehension of politics. Nevertheless, Player wants so much to be a patriot and to set an example of what the good (and misunderstood) South African really is that he does not think he can afford to be misinterpreted in such matters. "And then," he said, continuing, "when I am on the golf course and look grim, I am told I do not smile enough. Well, my word. I want you to tell me, George, is this a bloody smiling contest?"
Brought into the discourse was a well-dressed man in his 50s. George Blumberg made his fortune in paper bags and, now that he has it made, he and his darkly handsome wife, Brenda, spend much of their time trailing Gary Player around the golf courses of the world. If Whiskey Player is Gary Player's Mpundulu bird, George Blumberg is his mother hen. Gary respects and confides in intelligent people. He confides in George Blumberg.
"Gary," said George (precise, paternal), "I will tell you something you must always remember. Popularity is something nonachievers try to substitute for achievement. All you must strive for, Gary, is achievement, nothing else. And hitting through the ball."
Gary Player hit through another ball. Down the fairway the caddie hopped out of the way as it thudded down. Blumberg said, "Gary imagines most of this, you know. He is the greatest thing that ever happened to South African golf. He gives so much of himself. He thinks people want him to lose, and some people might, but if he were not in many of the tournaments here they would not have sponsors to sponsor them. You would never guess how many young golfers he has helped financially. I would bet more than half in this country. Did you know he has talked of sponsoring Papwa on the American tour? He would not want me to tell you that, because it would look like he was trying to save face with Molly, but it's true. You will never hear him say anything about it.
"The trouble is, of course, that he is a hero, and heroes have it the hardest in their own country. With Gary it's, even harder because he takes everything so seriously. But do not ever believe that any outside problem affects his golf. Just look at him hit that ball. He has complete control over his mind when he is on the golf course. That is why he is such a great competitor. He is right now at the peak of his game. He could go on winning major tournaments for years and years."
Whiskey Player said, "Gary has promised me he would quit at 35."
"Gary is all the time asking me when he will be able to retire," said Blumberg. "I tell him he can retire when he is willing to accept a lesser life for himself and his family. He wants to be a farmer, he says, but what he really wants is to be a gentleman farmer."
"You must go up and see my farm," said Gary Player. "Then you will realize how wonderful a life that is. On my word of honor, it is so beautiful up there it is fantastic. The trees, the mountains, the horses. You are really living when you are farming. It's true. I would rather farm than play golf. I would rather ride a horse than play golf.
"Now look, you must make it clear I am grateful to golf. I love golf, you follow? I am grateful for the opportunities it has given me. But I don't think it's living, traveling all over the world and being in Japan or someplace thousands of miles away when your son has a birthday or your daughter is sick. Calling home once a week is not enough, you follow? I leave home torn to pieces. How can I call that a superlife? I believe the superlife is on the farm, near to basics. Very few people know what farming is anymore. It is like trying to explain golf to someone who has never tried it. You can't convince them."
"It is my opinion," said George Blumberg, "that you would be a fine farmer for about two months, and then you would read in the paper that someone else is the best golfer in South Africa, and you would come running down out of those hills as fast as your little legs would carry you. That is what I think of your farming, Gary Player."
At age 30, in the prime of life and at the peak of his profession, Gary Jim Player of South Africa is an enormously wealthy man. He is handsome. He has his teeth and all his black hair and a compact (5 feet 7, 153 pounds), well-developed body that he caters to by eating brown sugar and wheat germ and lifting heavy weights. He has a white villa with balconies on an acre of terraced ground in the fashionable Lower Houghton section of Johannesburg, a city of one and a quarter million people. The landscaping is richly colored with hydrangeas, dahlias, hibiscus and jacaranda. There are a rose garden and a fish pond and a swimming pool big as a tennis court, and he can hit a nine-iron shot from his backyard to the fairways of the Killarney golf course. It could be Santa Monica, or Coral Gables.
Hanging from the living room walls are originals by Gabriel de Jongh, the South African painter. There are murals and bronze castings and a replica of the Venus de Milo residing on a plinth in the foyer. The ceilings are high, the rooms are large and the freezer is loaded. There are six bedrooms in the house and adjoining quarters for four servants. A night watchman comes on at dusk. The house has a burglar alarm and a steel mesh fence wired into the alarm, that separates the upstairs bedrooms from the main floor. This is not peculiar in Johannesburg in the 1960s. Revolt is not imminent, one is told, but burglars are. The petty-crime rate is high. Player calls the house Augusta (the name is on a pillar by the front gate) for his victory in the 1961 Masters.
The Player country retreat, his monastery, the ranch he calls a farm, is a thousand acres of profit potential in a small corner of the beautiful, muscular Drakensberg Mountains 200 miles north of Jo-burg. This is high veld country, where the rains gather and timber grows twice as fast as it might, and in his section, Magoeba's (Ma-hoo-bus) Kloof, there are great folds in the earth, and the mist tumbles into them in the evening. He has two houses on the property, his own smaller one and one for the family of his manager, John Clarke, and a kraal of rondavels (round mud-and-thatch huts) that the natives on his staff built for their families. Clarke and the staff run the farm and plant the blue-green conifers that will soon make Gary Player a lot of money. Last winter, when his friend Jack Nicklaus was coming to visit and play an exhibition series, Player built a $3,000 dam to enlarge his lake and then stocked the lake with $1,500 worth of trout so that Nicklaus, a fisherman, might better appreciate South Africa. He had Clarke build a rondavel at the water's edge in case they wanted to stay the night. He does not allow hunting on the property. He has strong feelings about the shooting of animals, forged by the admonishments of his older brother Ian, who is chief conservator of the Hluhluwe Game Reserve in Zululand. Player calls the ranch Bellerive (the name is painted on an archway at the entrance of the red-clay drive that leads up the mountain to his house) for the Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, where he won the 1965 U.S. Open.
The center of the family life that so engages Gary Player is his wife, Vivienne—"Viv," or "Love"—who once played so well she had a two handicap and who early in their marriage beat Gary at his own game. Since then he has kept her occupied having Mark and Wayne, Jennifer, 7, Michele, 2, and Theresa, 10 months. They are fat, bright, energetic children, and Gary Player kisses them and rough-houses with them and caters to their whims. Wayne drools with laughter when attacked by his father's eight-fingered "tickle bird." Mark is the source of a unanimous family pride because he can do push-ups with one hand. Gary Player would like to have a dozen children.
Player named his son Mark after Mark McCormack, an American lawyer and naturalized member of the Player family who sees to it that the affairs of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are carried on in a crisp, intelligent manner—which is to say, making money hand over four-iron. Player is perpetually amazed by McCormack. His own education did not exceed the 11th grade and, innately trusting, Gary relies on better-informed people to direct him through the paths of finance and aggrandizement. "Isn't that something, Mark!" Gary exclaims when McCormack wows him with another piece of fiscal brilliance. It flatters Gary that people he does not know will buy shirts simply because the shirts bear his name, use Fiberglas golf clubs because he endorses them, chew Life Savers, write with Parker pens, fly Lufthansa and smear themselves with cosmetics and suntan oil. They will plow with International Harvester, drink Coca-Cola, eat United Fruit, ride on General Tires and fill up their tanks with Mobil. Feature films are made about him, a syndicated column is signed by him, and there is a new Gary Player Health Centre in Johannesburg so fat people can train down to look like him. He will earn more than half a million dollars in 1966. He does not know what to make of it all; he says he doesn't even know if it's right. "Everything is so wonderful that I think something terrible will happen."
If it were not for some cautioning hands, it is generally agreed that Gary Player's soft, philanthropic heart would run away with his pocketbook. He is a famous touch. He used to cover the charity league like a jolly greenback giant, and he has made many contributions to U.S. caddies in the form of "loans." He believes, this rich young man, that the haves of the world are obligated to the have-nots. He gave away his entire U.S. Open purse—$20,000 to help American junior golf, $5,000 to cancer research. (Player's mother died of cancer when he was 8 years old.) He paid his caddie $2,000. "Now," said McCormack, "everybody will know you give all your money away," and sure enough the begging became such a chorus that Gary had to hire his older sister, Wilma, to screen his mail and his telephone calls. One man wanted 30,000 rand (about $40,000) to start a business. A woman wanted her four sons sent through college. People offered to sell him horses, farms, inventions. McCormack is even suspicious that a florist who grandly named a rose the Gary Player might have had a thornier motive.
It is part of the curious Player psyche, however, that the more money he makes playing golf the less he wants to be remembered as a man who made a lot of money playing golf. He once told John Hildyard that what he wanted most in life was to become someone who does things for his country and who helps the youth of his country, and Hildyard was so impressed by the conviction he put the entire quote in headlines. Last December Player invited 20 orphans to his farm for a 10-day vacation. He gave them liberal doses of farm work and wholesome farm food and stern farmer's advice, and he enjoyed the experience so much he wants to make it a regular thing.
It bothers Player that "the situation"—apartheid and subjugation of the blacks—is looked on with such repugnance in the U.S., where he has been so royally treated. His love for America is genuine, but he does not think Americans appreciate his country's problems. He feels critics are not aware how near to savage the Bantu—the black natives—of South Africa really are. He says the chaos in the rest of Africa points this out and he believes, as most South Africans do (with some justification), that the Bantu have a happier and a better life in his country. He believes they are growing children who will some day be ready for the responsibility of adulthood, but in the meantime must be given a paternal guidance and a Christian compassion. He enjoys a close rapport with those Bantu interested in golf. He gives them balls and clubs, and in his honor a Gary Player Golf Club was formed by black Africans. He is adored by his black caddie, a boy named Frank. On a recent day when he was entertaining friends with a braaivleis—a sort of Boer barbecue heavy on the sausage—on his Johannesburg lawn, he left guests to chat with seven blacks who had come right up in his driveway looking for him. "Boss Geddy." they called him. They wrung his hand and explored his Cadillac. Some he spoke to in fluent Afrikaans, though he is not an Afrikaner. "I'm glad you saw that," he said to an American at the barbecue. "These people are happy people."
"The situation" inevitably comes up in parlor discussion, and Player does not try to divert it. He will even listen courteously when a woman guest elaborates on a theory that the difference between the races is in the consistency of their skulls and no liberal posture is going to change it. He holds no such prejudice. He believes strongly that progress is being made, that the Verwoerd government is working in the interests of the Bantu but that the South African whites will maintain their society indefinitely. He likes to point out that more automobiles are owned by South African Negroes than by Russians. (His seven black visitors drove off in a station wagon.)
He also believes, does Gary Player, that God marked him for special handling. "How else can you explain all the wonderful things? My life has heed incredible when you think about it." It worries him that he does not know clearly for what reason the good fortune has come, and he cannot fathom the way the scale sometimes tips. "My brother Ian is the most dedicated man I know," he says. "I work my heart out on a golf course and make a very good living. But it is just a bloody game. Ian works his heart out on that game reserve, and he is lucky to clear $300 a month."
The question to be answered, then, might be this: Can a man have all that Gary Player has had and will have and find happiness, too? Of course he can. But has Gary Player? "The fun," said Vivienne Player one night in the living room of the Player home, "was getting to the top. Not being there, but getting there." Which is no new discovery.
Player was 14 when he first started hanging around Jock Verwey's clubhouse at the Virginia Park course in Jo-burg, the sight of Viv Verwey in a pink sweater having turned his thinking to golf. He told his sister Wilma and his brother Ian that he was going to be six feet tall and, rapidly flexing the fingers of both hands in their grinning faces, that by the time he was 30 he was going to have ¬£30.000 in the bank. The way he was going to get it was to become a professional golfer.
He was a natural athlete who ran track and swam and had won honors in soccer and cricket. His touch with golf, however, had been in his toes. He used to dig balls out of the mud of a pond on a nearby course with his feet, and sell them by the dozen. Then one day he talked his father into taking him along for a game, and the first time he swung a golf club in earnest he parred three holes in a row. By the time he was 16 he was telling everybody he was going to quit school and turn pro and marry Jock Verwey's pretty daughter. Jock saw in young Gary Player great ambition matched with small talent. "No bloody chance," Jock said.
But there is in Player an almost mystical respect for hard practice. He enjoys being told that no one save Ben Hogan ever worked harder perfecting a golf swing. Even now it comes out. When preparing for the South African Open at Houghton he woke up the course secretary hitting balls down the practice fairway at dawn. Harold Henning once said he was "just not cut out to slog like Gary does," and it was Henning whom Player beat by a stroke in that tournament. Player would, as a boy, practice eight hours a day. He would keep Vivienne Verwey waiting "just until I hit 10 straight ones in a row," or "hole five chip shots." "Now this putt," he would say, hunching over the ball, "is for the U.S. Open Championship."
Whiskey Player took out a bank loan to finance Gary's first trip. He played with used golf balls. In an exhibition with Bobby Locke and Peter Thomson he borrowed a pair of pants from Bobby Verwey, Vivienne's brother, because he was embarrassed by his own clothes. Bobby weighed 50 pounds more than Gary did. To hide the discrepancy, Gary wore a bulky knit sweater and suffered through the hottest day of the year.
He won his first international tournament in Cairo—the 1955 Egyptian Open—and went out that very afternoon and practiced until it was dark. Brian Wilkes, a fellow pro who was with the group making the trip, was flabbergasted. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Gary?" "Brian," replied Player, "in four years I am going to win the British Open." It took him exactly four.
In 1956 he was leading the Ampol tournament in Melbourne, Australia by seven strokes as he came to the final hole, and he was praying, "Dear Lord, don't let me faint," and when he claimed the winner's check he wired Vivienne Verwey to buy her wedding dress and set aside enough money to buy his sister Wilma and her husband a house in Jo-burg.
He remembers being 40 stories up in a New York hotel on his first trip to the U.S. in 1957, and getting so homesick he telephoned Vivienne to come right away. He was second to Tommy Bolt in the 1958 U.S. Open, and he rushed up to Vivienne, shouting, "Guess how much we won, Love? Five thousand dollars! Five thousand dollars!" They bought a yellow-and-black Ford sedan.
His intensity on the course was immense. He is never a vindictive man, but his great drive to succeed often ran at odds with his compassion for people. He had fierce private battles with his father, and kissed him when all was resolved. Walking beside him one day in a match-play tournament when he was six holes down to Tony Lema, Vivienne said encouragingly, "I love you, darling," and Gary snapped, "Don't ever give me sympathy on a golf course!" He once missed a short putt, a very important one, in a tournament in Johannesburg and looked up to see a man grinning at him. "This is my life's work," he blurted. "I don't think there is anything to smile about." Later somebody told him the man's grin was not a grin at all, but his natural expression. Player searched the course over, found the man and apologized.
He won the British Open in 1959 and the Masters in 1961. Endorsements and ancillary benefits lined up by McCormack assured him $20,000 that year before he hit another ball, but he still went out and led the money winners on the tour. McCormack had to hire Bill and Tony Trollip, lawyer sons of the South African Minister of Labour and Immigration, and lesser advisers in Japan and Australia to keep the money in neat piles. Player won the PGA Championship in 1962 and with his victory in the U.S. Open at Bellerive last June became the third golfer in history—following Hogan and Gene Sarazen—to have won all four major tournaments. By the end of 1965, Player had won checks in 140 of 150 events, and averaged $2,258 a check.
Gary Player does not drink or smoke. He does not party. His idea of entertaining friends is to have them over for a quiet braaivleis, or to fly them up to his farm to camp out by the lake and clomp through the forests. Liquor is available at Player social gathering, but it is more likely that Coke will flow like water. John Hildyard believes that one reason Player has not achieved the unanimous popularity of Bobby Locke (though Locke did little for South African golf by comparison) is because Locke was one to sit around clubhouse cocktail lounges after a round, telling funny stories and letting people buy him drinks. It is possible, too, that some might find irritating the constant maintenance of Gary Player's immaculate personality; his constant references to physical fitness, made in rambling, played-to-the-heartstrings speeches; his preachments on wheat germ and dried fruit; his admonishments of the flabby; his goading references to the American way of doing things better; his stand-up soliloquies for God, flag and family. "He is," said a British journalist's wife who had never met him, "just too damn good to be true."
But Gary Player is true, and that is his torment. In his den, where he keeps the only evidences of his golfing success (pictures with people like Eisenhower, trophies, scorecards of famous victories), he says privately that if he were able to look at Gary Player out on the golf course he would not see the man he thinks he is. "What I would see," he says, "is just the opposite of what I am. Basically I love lo laugh. I love people. I like to have people like me, to have friends. But what I would say of the person I would see out there is, 'Well, he is a battler.' I am too sentimental, I suppose. I am not scared to fight for anything or to fight anybody. You follow? My word of honor, I would fight Mike Souchak if I had to, though it would not go well for me. I am sure. But if I were a schoolboy and my teacher were to tell me that I was lazy or bad, it would shatter me."
The honesty within himself about himself drives Gary Player. He does not want to appear anything but what he is. Once, some time ago, in a car with an American writer and another pro golfer, he listened from the back seat while the other two made raking references to a golfer who wore fingernail polish. Player leaned forward and in that intense tenor voice said. "Uh, Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones, I use fingernail polish."
Last December, Player took the family to the farm for their first real vacation there. Gary's days were occupied with hard, elementary labor. He worked side by side with John Clarke and with an African he calls Willy, a Sesuthu who is illiterate and lives in a kraal of rondavels with his wife and 10 children. Player thinks Willy is an excellent example of the good African—a hard worker, loyal and suspicious of the white man's glutinous diet. He says that Willy has been to Johannesburg and never wants to go back.
Player ate porridge and homemade bread that Mrs. Clarke sent over, and bananas and avocados and papaws fresh from the garden. He rode horses at breakneck speed on his $200 western saddle. He built a gate with huge pillars to lead to his house, and a paddock-style fence all the way round. He roamed the dark, silent forests. He had long chats with his children. There was no television, no radio except for the news, and the telephone rang infrequently because he must share it with six other parties in Magoeba's Kloof. He sat on the stoop at night and watched the mists roll into the valley, and at 8:30 he was ready for bed.
When he came down out of the mountains, he had tournaments to play and speeches to make. He had meetings with Mark McCormack. He got his dad to arrange for a special native war dance at the gold mines for the coming of Jack Nicklaus. He conducted a press coffee to announce the opening of his new athletic club and spoke at tiring length about what an important thing fitness is and what a great man John F. Kennedy was to realize it. He was in constant demand. His time was never his. He made a lot more money. He endured Molly Reinhardt. And every time he talked of the farm he sounded like a homesick child.
Discussing Player at a cocktail party at George Blumberg's house some nights later, Denis Hutchinson, another South African, said it for all the others. "I would not want his life," said Hutchinson. "I would want his money, and the things he has, but I would not want his life." Maybe no one but Gary Player could handle it.