Home > Dougherty: Sharing the wisdom of Gary Player | USA Today High School Sports

Dougherty: Sharing the wisdom of Gary Player | USA Today High School Sports

Gary Player speaks on Monday before the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational on Monday at GlenArbor.

Gary Player speaks on Monday before the Berenberg Gary Player Invitational on Monday at GlenArbor.

For some reason, the most relevant people in sports are millennials.

LeBron James can reach 24.4 million followers with a single tweet. He’s got the power to influence an entire generation in the palm of his oversized hand.

Can you name a role model in play right now over the age of 40?

With the exception of Peyton Manning, each birthday celebration exponentially reduces a marquee athlete’s face time on “SportsCenter.” The sound bites eventually fall on deaf ears.

It’s sad, really.

Gary Player was in the neighborhood on Monday, sharing all kinds of wit and wisdom before he worked over an impressive guest list gathered at GlenArbor to support his namesake charitable foundation.

The world traveler will be 80 in a couple of weeks.

“My life is full, absolutely full,” Player said with a measure of humility. “I think retirement is a death warrant.”

Nothing is off the record with this gentleman.

A lot of the material is recycled, but the inspirational messages are fresh to anyone reading this on a smartphone. There has to be room on the locker-room bulletin boards for old-school observations.

“We can’t take credit for the success we have,” Player said passionately. “It’s a gift that’s loaned to you from God. It’s been taken away from many people. Look at Tiger Woods on the way to becoming the greatest player that ever lived. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to him. He’s not a cinch to do it anymore. He was always a cinch to break all kinds of records. It’s debatable now. We’ve seen it happen to David Duval. Tom Watson, a superstar, never won for 10 years. Nothing is guaranteed.”

There is value in reflections from a man who’s spent a lifetime competing and contributing around the globe.

“You can go to Harvard, Stanford, Princeton or Yale and get degree after degree,” Player said. “To actually experience something is by far the greater advantage.”

Work ethic is another favorite topic of the 5-foot-6 underdog who often went toe to toe with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

And in many instances, he won.

“You see, being small was the greatest advantage in the world because adversity makes you work harder and appreciate things more,” Player said. “I had to work harder. Without boasting, I can say these hands here have hit more golf balls than any human being who has ever lived because I had to in order to survive against these big guys.”

Player has a role model, too.

“Nelson Mandela, our great father in South Africa, is one of the five greatest men, probably, that lived in the last century,” Player said. “He’s a man who went to jail for 20 years for doing the right thing, not the wrong thing, and I spent a lot of time with him. Every time I was around him, I couldn’t help but cry. Every single time. He was so full of love and so full of forgiveness.”

Athletes who really have a desire to give back do more than sign game-used equipment or checks.

Player has raised more than $60 million for charity. He’s built schools at home in South Africa, provided hope for the homeless in London and for underprivileged children in the U.S.

The ambitious goal is to raise another $40 million in the years ahead.

“As our great president Mandela said so aptly, sport can change the world,” Player said.

Fitness is another favorite topic.

Player is clearly grateful for the opportunity to compete over the years on a grand stage.Watching generation after generation here succumb to unhealthy lifestyles inspires a little fire and brimstone.

“I see what’s happening in the greatest country in the world, the United States,” he said. “I see how the youth are deteriorating, 25 percent already obese. All the diseases – heart, cancer, diabetes. People are dying like flies and we’re taking exercise out of schools instead of increasing activity.

“Quit the drugs. Quit the damn alcohol. Quit the smoking. Exercise. Get off your butt.”


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