Gary Player: On Being An Athlete
Fitness should be a very important part of your golf practice routine. Gary Player has known this for years! Not only will exercise improve your performance on the golf course, but will also go a long way in preventing injuries. Enjoy these insights from “The Black Knight” that we found in the archives of Golf Digest.
Gary Player, featured here in the December 1965 Golf Digest, retains his commitment to fitness at 75. He’ll join Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as an honorary starter at next year’s Masters.
1. MAKE IT PART OF YOU
When I was 9, my older brother, Ian, was called off to war. Before he left, he took me aside. “I might not come back,” he said. “But whether I do or don’t, I want you to promise me that you’ll always exercise and keep yourself fit.” When Ian got home, he found I had kept my promise, and today I’m about as fit as a 75-year-old man can be. The secret is commitment. It cannot be a fad. Even if your exercise program is small, you must make it a part of your life.
2. WALK AT A GOOD CLIP
Not just on the course, but off. Good walker-golfers can go 36 and have energy to spare. Sam Snead had a wonderful stride and a rapid, consistent pace. He moved like a jungle animal and never tired. On the flip side, I once played with a famous football player in the old NFL Golf Classic. He was known for his endurance, but after three days he was absolutely whipped. Walking is natural, but you can improve at it: Walk rapidly and smoothly, swinging your arms to help you breathe.
3. DEVELOP BOTH SIDES OF YOUR BODY
The perfect golfer would look like Popeye: thin waist, powerful legs, huge forearms, with the left and right sides equally strong. When you perform any repetitive motion like the golf swing, it’s important to strengthen the corresponding muscle groups. Swinging a weighted club is a great exercise, but if you’re right-handed, make the same number of swings left-handed. This will keep your back and hips in balance and prevent injury.
4. FOCUS ON YOUR HANDS AND WRISTS
Henry Cotton once told me that your hands, fingers and wrists can never be too strong. Hitting practice balls will work out your hands, but you want to do special exercises, too. Suspending free weights using your thumb and each finger individually is a big help.
I do my favorite hands-and-wrists exercise when my grass at home gets long. I take a sand wedge (the heaviest club in the bag) and “cut the grass” with it, holding on firmly so I can accelerate to a full finish.
5. WORK ON YOUR CORE
Strengthening your core muscles, your stomach especially, has become a mantra in golf-training programs. It’s not news to me; I’ve always felt that my core essentially holds my body together and prevents back injuries. I still do sit-ups. I can do hundreds in a day as long as I break them up into two or three sessions.
6. FIGHT BECOMING OVERWEIGHT
Golf is the game for a lifetime, but that lifetime will be shorter if you’re overweight. And while you’re at it, encourage a young person to lose weight. Every week, I make a point of finding an overweight youngster in the gallery and taking his father aside. I tell these fellows, privately and very politely, “My son is a diabetic, and my father was a diabetic. When you get diabetes, you take insulin twice a day, and that doesn’t stop it from affecting your eyes, your liver, your limbs and everything else. Please get your son on a good diet now.” I think they’re usually grateful.
7. EAT ‘SUPER FOODS’
The biggest technological advance in golf in the next 50 years won’t be equipment or exercise. It’ll be nutrition. Pro athletes will have “super diets” and will avoid starches, sugar and most of the commercial foods available today, which are loaded with all kinds of steroids, pesticides, sewage and industrial wastes. They’ll eat “super foods,” such as almond milk, which is loaded with proteins and tons of nutrients. Other common examples of super foods are raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole-grain breads, avocado and yogurt.
8. TRY TO GET WINDED, 10 MINUTES A DAY
Whether it’s climbing stairs in your house, riding an exercise bike or jumping rope, the key is to get at least slightly out of breath for 10 minutes. It’s practically impossible to be badly out of shape if you do this each and every day. Be opportunistic; an example is to always take the stairs instead of the elevator. I make a game of seeing how long I can go without using an elevator. And I always trot, not trudge, up the stairs.
9. BE SMART ABOUT LIFTING WEIGHTS
When other players first saw my weight-training program back in the 1950s, they thought I was crazy. Frank Stranahan, a terrific amateur player, and I were the only ones doing it. In fact, lifting weights has made me a better golfer. Two suggestions:
First, bench presses are very popular, but I still prefer old-fashioned push-ups to strengthen the chest.
Second, do your weight training in the evening, and follow it immediately with a shower–cold water, then hot. This will help your body recover faster, so you aren’t as stiff the following day.
10. GET ENERGY FROM YOUNGER PEOPLE
When I’m on vacation, I try to play golf with younger people, the fitter the better. I think you tend to take on the characteristics of the individuals you spend the most time with. Doing activities with young, healthy people has had a way of making me rise to their level. The best traits of young people–their optimism, curiosity, alertness and energy–are contagious and will definitely make you feel younger.