Back when lifting weights was considered anathema to a fluid golf swing, and a “performance” diet was a rare steak and buttery potato followed by a Lucky Strike, Gary Player was the sport’s oddball. He regularly lifted weights, ate healthily … and won 163 tournaments, including nine majors, in a career that began in 1953. He added another nine majors as a Senior.
At 80, Player, a native South African who keeps busy designing courses worldwide, remains impressively fit and trim. “Mr. Fitness,” as he’s been known for decades, logs 1,300 sit-ups daily, and has disrobed without hesitation for ESPN photo shoots.
“Retirement is a death warrant,” Player recently told the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
On that note, here’s some living guidance from a few lucky minutes we landed with golfing’s feistiest octogenarian.
Being fit helps the mind. If you don’t have to worry about getting tired on the back nine on Sunday, you remove a distraction—and distractions ruin you.
The Masters Athlete: Your best fitness tips for Gary Player wannabes—even if they’re 35 years your junior?
Gary Player: Start with strength, but don’t strain. In golf, it’s more important to have longer, leaner muscles than to be big and bulky. Pay particular attention to your rotator cuffs, wrists, and knees. Stretch every day—definitely before playing.
TMA: And diet?
GP: I advocate for more vegetarian, but I know that this is not for everyone. So make your chicken organic, and skinless. No processed sugars.
TMA: That advice may not be particularly revelatory to, or welcomed by, plenty of red-blooded, middle-aged golfers. Why should they listen?
GP: Just before my brother left to fight with the Allies in World War II, he told me that exercise was essential. He made me promise that I would always stay fit, and I made and kept that promise.
TMA: So you’ve been thinking this way for 70 years? Since you were a kid?
GP: I believed that fitness would give me an advantage, and it did. Everyone said that weight training would ruin my golf swing and shorten my career. Being fit also helps the mind. If you don’t have to worry about getting tired on the back nine on Sunday, you remove a distraction. Distractions ruin you.
TMA: What do you think about the fitness habits of today’s pros?
GP: Pros are in much better shape than they were during my career. They’re putting in the time.
TMA: Do you think you could still inspire a few?
GP: Maybe I’m not as long off the tee as I used to be. But I can still compete. I feel as good as I did 25 years ago.