Golfer Gary Player: Biography and Career Facts & Figures

Gary Player after winning the British Open in 1974
Gary Player after winning the British Open in 1974. Brian Morgan/Getty Images

Gary Player was arguably the first modern international golfer, traveling around the world from his earliest days as a professional, playing different tours and winning on them all. Along the way he won a lot of tournaments, including a lot of majors. Player was part of golf's "Big Three" from the 1960s forward (along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus).

Player was born on Nov. 1, 1935, in Johannesburg, South Africa. His nickname, "The Black Knight," arose from Player's habit of wearing all-black on the golf course.

Tour Victories and Major Championship Wins

Player won 24 times on the U.S. PGA Tour, then another 19 times on the Champions Tour after turning 50. His worldwide win total is 163. Player achieved 63 wins on South Africa's Sunshine Tour, 18 on the PGA of Australasia, and also had wins in Europe plus Japan, Egypt, Brazil and Chile, plus three on the European Seniors Tour.

In the four major championships in men's golf, Player won nine times, tied with Ben Hogan for fourth-best in golf history. His major victories break down thusly:

  • He won The Masters in 1961, 1974 and 1978.
  • Player's only U.S. Open win was in 1965.
  • Player won the British Open in 1959, 1968 and 1974.
  • And he won the PGA Championship in 1962 and 1972.

Player was just the third golfer ever to complete the Career Grand Slam (wins in all four majors).

Awards and Honors for Gary Player

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Recipient, South African Sportsman of the Century award
  • PGA Tour money leader, 1961
  • Captain, International team, 2003, 2005, 2007 Presidents Cup

Biography and Golf Career

Gary Player was the first "international" golfer to gain stardom. By "international," we mean non-American and non-European, and we also mean world-traveler.

Player, living up to one of his many nicknames as "The International Ambassador of Golf," is estimated to have flown more than 15 million miles traversing the globe to play golf tournaments.

While countryman Bobby Locke preceded him to the PGA Tour, South African Player was the first international star to build a long-term presence on the PGA Tour, while also playing around the world. Along the way, Player won tournaments in 27 consecutive years, and 163 tournaments total worldwide.

Player turned pro in 1953 and joined the PGA Tour in 1957. His first major championship win came at the 1959 British Open, and he was the first non-American to win The Masters when he did so in 1961. The PGA Championship followed in 1962, and when Player won the 1965 U.S. Open he became, at the time, only the third winner of the career grand slam.

Throughout the 1960s, Player was part of golf's "Big Three," a group of superstars that also including Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. The three were friendly rivals both on and off the course for the remainder of their careers, and into the 2010s were still playing the Masters Par-3 Contest together (that only ended upon Palmer's death). They also served as honorary starters together at The Masters.

The last of Player's nine wins in majors came at the 1978 Masters, where his final-round 64 propelled him from a 7-shot deficit to a 1-stroke victory.

Player won the South African Open 13 times; the Australian Open seven times; and the World Match Play Championship five times. He continued winning after joining the Champions Tour in 1985, including six senior majors.

Off the course, Player worked behind-the-scenes to improve the racial situation in his native South Africa, which for most of his life existed under the shroud of apartheid. He founded The Player Foundation to promote education among his country's underprivileged, and the foundation built the Blair Atholl Schools in Johannesburg, which has educational facilities for more than 500 students.

Player is a breeder of racehorses and a designer of golf courses, with more than 300 courses around the world. He also has his own wine and apparel labels. Player was also a lifelong fitness buff and promoter of health and fitness initiatives, both inside and outside of golf.

In the 2000-aughts, Player three times served as International team captain in the Presidents Cup. All three times the opposing captain was Nicklaus. Nicklaus and Team USA got the better of it twice, but at the 2003 Presidents Cup the captains agreed to call it a tie and share the cup — a first — as darkness fell on the final day with a tie score and a playoff in progress.

Gary Player was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 as part of its first class.

Quote, Unquote

  • Gary Player: "The harder you practice the luckier you get."
  • Player: "I've studied golf for almost 50 years now and know a hell of a lot about nothing."

Gary Player Trivia

  • Gary Player was the only golfer of the 20th Century to win a British Open title in three different decades.
  • Player holds the record for most times playing in The Masters. He played 52 Masters tournaments, the last in 2009.
  • In 1970, the golfer released a record album of 10 songs, many of them pop or country classics and standards. The album, called Gary Player Sings, can be heard on YouTube.

PGA Tour Wins by Gary Player

  • 1958 Kentucky Derby Open
  • 1959 British Open
  • 1961 Lucky International Open
  • 1961 Sunshine Open Invitational
  • 1961 Masters Tournament
  • 1962 PGA Championship
  • 1963 San Diego Open Invitational
  • 1964 Pensacola Open
  • 1964 500 Festival Open Invitation
  • 1965 U.S. Open
  • 1968 British Open
  • 1969 Tournament of Champions
  • 1970 Greater Greensboro Open
  • 1971 Greater Jacksonville Open
  • 1971 National Airlines Open Invitational
  • 1972 Greater New Orleans Open
  • 1972 PGA Championship
  • 1973 Southern Open
  • 1974 Masters Tournament
  • 1974 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic
  • 1974 The Open Championship
  • 1978 Masters Tournament
  • 1978 MONY Tournament of Champions
  • 1978 Houston Open

Player's Champions Tour Wins

  • 1985 Quadel Seniors Classic
  • 1986 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1986 United Hospitals Senior Golf Championship
  • 1986 Denver Post Champions of Golf
  • 1987 Senior Tournament Players Championship
  • 1987 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1987 PaineWebber World Seniors Invitational
  • 1988 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1988 Aetna Challenge
  • 1988 Silver Pages Classic
  • 1988 U.S. Senior Open
  • 1988 GTE North Classic
  • 1989 GTE North Classic
  • 1989 RJR Championship
  • 1990 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1991 Royal Caribbean Classic
  • 1993 Bank One Senior Classic
  • 1995 Bank One Classic
  • 1998 Northville Long Island Classic