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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

Player has traveled far and often

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Next time the nuances and nuisances of inter-island travel get you down, think about Gary Player. Trust him. It really is not that bad.

2003 MasterCard Championship

• WHAT: Champions Tour season-opening event

• WHEN: From 11 a.m. today and tomorrow; 10:30 a.m. Sunday

• WHERE: Hualalai PGA Tour Resort, Big Island (Par 36-36i72, 7,053 yards)

• PURSE: $1.5 million ($250,000 first prize)

• FIELD: 37 Senior PGA (now Champions) Tour winners from 2001 and 2002 seasons and major champions from past five years, including defending champion Tom Kite (17-under 199)

• ADMISSION: $10 daily, $25 tournament pass (all week). Children 12-under free with ticket-bearing adult

• TV: Golf Channel, 3-5:30 p.m. HST daily

In 50 years as a professional golfer, Player, 67, has flown 14 million miles. The man is no accidental tourist. He cannot count the countries he has seen but knows there are few he has missed.

"I enjoy the whole world," Player says. "All the countries have their own culture and kind of living. It's a great education to understand religions and cultures."

When his family was young, Player and wife Vivienne packed up the six kids and 30 bags and hit the road, often needing three taxis when they landed.

When Player won the 2000 Senior Skins he brought five children and more grandchildren than he can remember.

"I had to win just to break even," jokes Player, who collected $220,000. It was $18,000 more than the largest official paycheck of a $7.5 million career.

This year the Champions Tour plays for $52 million. It opens the 2003 season this morning with the MasterCard Championship at Hualalai Golf Club on the Big Island.

Player qualified for the invitation-only opener as a multiple (30-plus tournaments) winner, along with Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino. All are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame and legitimate legends.

Player earned his exemption with 163 victories worldwide, including nine majors. To say nothing of all those frequent-flier miles.

No trip is tougher, Player admits, than the 38-hour first leg of his 51st golf year — from his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, to Kona. He wouldn't change a thing.

"I love traveling," Player says. "I love my job."

Player's burning desire to be an international golfer is responsible for several million of those miles. But even when he is not playing golf, he is designing courses — more than 200 to date. The 20 or so he's got going now take him to places as diverse and distant as India, China, Poland, Egypt and Africa.

At home in South Africa, Player raises thoroughbred race horses at the Gary Player Stud Farm, and gardens. His yard is the one place he goes to get away and not worry about the next flight.

The man who has spent an estimated four years of his life on a plane has collected more than miles. He was the only player in the 20th century to win three British Opens in different decades. In 1990, he was named the South African Sportsman of the Century. In 1995, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from St. Andrews University in Scotland.

But the honor that might describe Player best — aside from all his golf trophies — is his Hilton Hotel Lifetime Achievement Award.

Player's advice for keeping the putts lagging but not the body is nothing new: Drink lots of water and adjust to local time ASAP. He complements that with a five-day-a-week workout routine, which always includes 1,000 sit-ups, that was far ahead of its time and might best explain his success.

"I try to under-eat," Player says, "and over-exercise."