Gary Player On Translating Mastery In Golf Into Mastery Of Your Life

Top three golfer of all-time, Gary Player, opens up about success, the mental game, adversity, and self versus collaboration.

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Gary Player pictured with all four of golf's Major Championship trophies.IMAGE COURTESY OF BLACK KNIGHT ARCHIVES

How do you become world-class at something? Do you find yourself building a career as a soloist? Have you faced adversity and don’t know how to move past it? Struggle to find time to improve your physical or mental fitness? Want to know the role of love in your career?

If you’re curious about or relate to any of these ideas, come along with me as we talk to golf legend Gary Player, aka “The Black Knight”.

Admittedly, I’m not a golf fan, but I am a fan of hard work, dedication, mastery, and the unexpected lessons we can translate from one arena to another.

So, I sat down with Gary Player to see what we can learn from his success.

Darrah Brustein: Golf is an inherently individual sport. What’s your advice for anyone in a career where their success weighs heavily on their independent performance?

Gary Player: Success begins with what’s inside a person. How badly do they want it? How hard are they prepared to work? Golf is no doubt a very lonely game. And the same can be said for a number of other sports, as well as business. In the end, you can’t rely on others too much. Sure, you may need help along the way, whether it’s advice or encouragement. But in the end, success falls mostly on the individual.

Of course, there will be “naysayers” who try to put you down. Really, it’s up to the individual to rise above and overcome any adversity that stands between him and success.

Player: My first manager, and the man who basically invented sports management through IMG – Mark McCormack – was instrumental to my success on and off the golf course. He was a visionary, who saw that sports figures should be able to capitalize on their persona through endorsements and being a spokesperson for companies and other brands.

All of our talent is on loan. I’ve seen so many golfers over the years who woke up one day and could not even make a cut anymore. So, Mark taught me how important it is to capitalize on your success in the moment. Don’t wait around for tomorrow. Get your deal done. And here I am in my 83rd year, still representing global companies like Rolex, SAP and Berenber, and building my own brand along the way.

Gary Player is regarded as the world’s greatest bunker player. Image Courtesy of Black Knight Archives

Brustein: You’ve talked about how success is 10% preparation and 90% mental fortitude. How does one defeat her own insecurities and increase his or her mental fitness?

Player: For me, it was overcoming adversity at an early age. My mother died of cancer when I was young. At the same time, my brother went to war, my sister was at boarding school, and I seldom saw my father as he was working his tail off 8000 feet underground in the gold mines.

But that made me stronger. I taught myself to be independent. I worked hard on my golf game, but even harder on my mind. I remember being in my hotel room, looking in the mirror, slapping myself and repeatedly saying ‘You are a champion!’, ‘Have guts!’, ‘Prove yourself!’, ‘Be patient!’

Known as “The World’s Most Traveled Athlete” ™. To date, Gary Player has traveled more than 28 million air kilometers around the world during his 65-year career.

Brustein: You went through a tragedy early on in your life, around age 8. How did that propel you forward, and what can others learn from this when they face adversity?

Player: The world does not owe anyone anything. It’s how you respond to life which determines your successes. After my mother died from cancer, and there was no one to really look after me, I could have – probably should have – gone down a dark path.

I remember my mother lying on that hospital bed. She got a call from a friend (who knew she was sick) and she asked how my mother was feeling. To my surprise, she said ‘I feel fantastic!’ When she hung up the phone, I just looked at her in disbelief. But the words she said next ring in my head every day. She said, ‘Gary, don’t put your problems on somebody else; they have enough of their own.’

Face adversity head-on with tenacity, determination and grit. You will be a better person for it.

Known as Mr. Fitness, Gary Player’s workout routine is as legendary as his golf career.

Brustein: Fitness is something for which you’re equally as famous as you are for golf, and you credit it for much of your longevity and success. Any tips for those of us who struggle to integrate this into our lives?

Player: One hour exercising is only 4 percent of the day. That’s my mentality. A person who exercises has more energy. If you don’t have time to go to the gym, buy yourself a treadmill. If you can’t afford a treadmill, walk around your neighborhood.

There are so many ways to be active. It helps your body and mind in so many ways we don’t even completely understand. We are at our infancy in understanding how fitness and diet can help your longevity. You need to sleep well. Meditate. Be grateful. Smile. Spend time with family and friends. Get outside and into nature. Help others.

I hope my life, and how I have approached fitness and diet, can be a case study for future generations.

Brustein: Love isn’t a word often used when someone is mapping out his or her career. However, you’ve shared that you believe it’s the most important element for a life and career well-lived. Care to elaborate?

Player: Love is the most important word in any language. If you have love in your heart, you will be fulfilled no matter what.

Brustein: What advice would you give your 8-year-old self?

Player: The exact same advice my brother gave to me before he left to fight in WWII – work hard, exercise every day, eat healthy, love unconditionally. Those words have served me well.

Brustein: For anyone who aspires to achieve something great, what advice can you share?

Player: Under no circumstances will this come easily, but you have to believe in yourself first. Visualize your goals. Remain positive. Be happy. Be enthusiastic. And never, never give up, no matter what the circumstances.

Mr. Player gave Elvis a quick golf lesson, urging Elvis to use his hips during his swing. Elvis’s response, “The hips, Gary? You’re talking to the right man!”

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