The stellar career of Gary Player, South Africa’s greatest sportsman, has always involved large numbers – and continues to do so.
The stellar career of Gary Player, arguably South Africa’s greatest sportsman of all time, has always involved large numbers – and continues to do so.
The super-fit 71-year-old has travelled 14 million miles, won 163 tournaments worldwide, won all four Majors, three of them on two or more occasions, played in 49 Masters and more than 50 Open Championships and even shot better than his age with a 69 on the Champions Tour last year.
And that’s just a small sample of the records and large numbers he has accumulated, but there is a new one that has just come up that he is especially proud of – the 50th anniversary of his marriage to Vivienne Verwey on January 19, 1956.
“It was definitely love at first sight and I love my wife more today than I ever did.” Player told the PGATour.com this week.
“I really appreciate the things that she has done for me as a wife. I could never have had the success I’ve had without this good woman.”
Player recalled how their romance had begun 57 years ago when Player was only 14 years old.
Vivienne’s father was a golf professional and one day when she and her family were visiting Player’s neighbours, Player’s brother, Christopher, pointed out the 13-year-old girl on the other side of the wall.
“She’s a real knockout,” Christopher said – and from the moment Player saw her, he just knew “she was the one”.
“People find it hard to believe, but I said Christopher, ‘I’m going to marry that girl.’
“I’d never met her. It was just a premonition, I don’t know how else to explain it.”
With the teenaged Player spending hours practicing his game at the Virginia Park Golf Club in Johannesburg where Vivienne’s father, Jock Verwey, was the club professional and his mentor and where his daughter worked part-time in the pro shop, it wasn’t surprising that the two grew increasingly attached over the next five years.
When Player travelled to Australia in 1957 to the Ampol Tournament, the richest outside of the USA at the time, he promised Vivienne he would marry her if he won.
He did and a friendly pressman got a message through to her which read: “So thrilled to have won the tournament. Will you marry me?”
She was at a golf tournament in Johannesburg when she received it and ecstatically jumped high into the air.
A cameraman snapped the picture, which became the “image of the year” in a local newspaper.
From the outset on their honeymoon where Player continued to practice every day, Vivienne has always been hugely supportive.
“Arnold [Palmer], Jack [Nicklaus] and I were considered the Big Three at the time, but as far as I am concerned the Big Three were really our wives,” he said.
“These were special women, who never complained about us leaving and never nagged. For an athlete to excel for a length of time, you have to have a good wife.”
Vivienne was also a great mother, Player added, saying she should be given all the credit for successfully raising their large family of six children who between them have produced 18 grandchildren – and still counting.
“When we were struggling, I told her I was going to win the Grand Slam. She said that was a tall order but, ‘For every major you win, we will have a baby.’
“I won nine majors but we only had six children because she said finally, “That’s enough.
“I still tease her about not being a woman of her word.”
They celebrated their 50th anniversary on Friday in Ka’upulehu-Kona, Hawaii, where Player is compete in the MasterCard Championship with the conviction that:”Behind every successful man is a woman, but behind every successful professional golfer is an exceptional woman.”
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