By Michael Vlismas
Gary Player laughs a lot. But when he speaks about holes-in-one, it becomes a riot.
Player could write a book about his 31 holes-in-one, the most recent of which was his ace on the 7th during the Masters Par 3-Contest at Augusta National, making him the oldest to achieve this at the age of 80.
‘I’ve had 31 holes-in-one, but I tell everybody that only one was lucky,’ he says as he roars with laughter.
‘I couldn’t believe how many people saw that hole-in-one at The Masters. My daughter was on the beach in Cape Town and said she saw it. My son-in-law and daughter were in Machu Picchu in Peru climbing there and when they got back to the hotel and put on the TV they saw it too. You’d have thought I’d won The Masters with the emails I got.’
But when asked if there is any science or skill involved in the hole-in-one, Player is having none of that seriousness.
‘I mean c’mon, a hole-in-one is like a miracle. Ben Hogan, the straightest hitter the world ever knew, only had one. My father, who played for 40 years, never had one. To take a rifle and shoot it in the hole from 200 yards, you’d be very excited. I’m not a purist when it comes to holes-in-one. You see shots that hit an OB pole and bounce back in the hole. I’ll don’t care how it goes in. My bank manager has never asked if I hit it straight.’
Player had his first hole in one as a 15-year-old at Virginia Park Golf Club, beginning what has been a journey of incredible, interesting and downright bizarre holes-in-one throughout his career.
‘I’ve had a hole-in-one on four holes on four different golf courses and twice each on those holes at Virginia Park, Augusta National, Champion’s Retreat and The Cliffs. That’s pretty special.
‘One of my most memorable was while playing at The Tradition on the Champions Tour at Desert Mountain in Arizona. I was playing with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Now listen to this.
‘We get to the par-three 7th hole. It was a double green shared with the 15th hole. I hit a six-iron into the hole. Then when we came around and played the par-five 15th I holed a wedge for my third. So I had an ace and an eagle on the same green in the same round.’
There was also the memorable hole-in-one during a tournament at Country Club Johannesburg in 1986, and which Player says was the first to be filmed on live television in South Africa.
‘I was playing with Mark McNulty and said if you get a hole-in-one I’ll give you R20 000, and if I do it I’ll still give you R20 000. Well, when I did it he was more excited than me and nobody could understand why.’
And in New Zealand, Player once aced a par four.
‘I was playing a matchplay tournament against David Thomas. I was 5 down and gone, according to him. We came to this par four and it had a narrow path between the bunkers stopping people from driving to the green. I hit a hard path and it ran along there and into the hole for a one. He was so shocked that I went on and beat him.’
Never a man to ever consider quitting a round, Player tells a story he’d heard of a group of golfers at Fancourt.
‘I was told of an occasion at Fancourt where three of the fourball knocked it in for an ace on one of the courses there. Man, I tell you, if I was playing as the fourth I’d pick it up and walk in.’
But there is the one hole-in-one – or rather two – that really burns him. It was when his wife Vivienne had two aces in one round while playing at Wanderers Golf Club on 8 September 1978.
Vivienne remembers it as follows: ‘I think it was on the 15th and 3rd holes. Just before the first hole-in-one it had started to rain, so I hit my shot and then quickly dove under the umbrella to be next to my caddie. And I said, “I think I hit a good shot”. The caddie said, “Well, I think it’s in the hole”. When we got there it was. Anyway, two or three holes later I hit another shot that went straight in the hole. I actually saw it go in the hole this time from the tee. So, that really was exciting. The ladies I was playing with just couldn’t believe it. They were running around telling everyone. But, the interesting part was that on another hole I had my ball stop centimetres short of what could’ve been a third hole in one. When Gary phoned from overseas, I said to him, “Beat that!”’
That’s when Player intervenes. ‘And you know what I called her? Sir!’