Back in the late 1970s when Gary Player was still winning majors, if you didn’t recognize a pro golfer’s face, it was often difficult to tell him from the fans around him.
The golfers were mostly average-sized. And few worked on building their bodies. They looked like regular Joes and if you saw them away from the golf course you probably wouldn’t guess they were professional athletes.
Yet players like Ben Crenshaw, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Jerry Pate, John Mahaffey, Hubert Green, Tom Kite, Player and many others were Tour winners despite not being either tall or overly muscular.
That’s not the case today. Think Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, not Kevin Stadler.
The modern PGA pro is more likely to have a chiseled physique, flat belly, defined abs, perhaps a thicker-than-average neck, and arms whose muscles obviously have been toned from long hours working out in the gym (or the Tour’s traveling fitness trailer).
The person at least partially responsible for the change in appearance of today’s pro is Player, who celebrated his 80th birthday back in November. The hall-of-famer from South Africa brought a strong belief in peak physical fitness to a sport that, at that time of his career, saw more pros lifting beer glasses 🍻 than barbells.
Player won 160 events worldwide including nine Majors and 24 PGA tournaments in a nearly 50 year professional career.
— Golf Channel Academy (@GCA) March 2, 2017
His PGA Tour bio lists him as 5’6” and 150 pounds, but all his life he believed in strength and conditioning, still does in fact. Even now at 80 he says he works out four or five times a week with a routine including 1,000 mixed crunches, one legged squats, core exercises, and sprints on the treadmill.
If you want to get fit like Gary Player, you can find him exercising and discussing fitness and diet on YouTube. Here are a few of the highlights:
In a Golf Digest video, Player says to improve your golf, improve your core. “I think the most important thing for golfers,” he told Claudine Foong, “is the core. In fact, for all sports. If you look at this now [slaps his stomach several times] that is as hard as a plank.”
In a video from PGATour.com in 2014 Player says that what you eat (or don’t eat) is as important as the exercise you do. “I took an oath to God years ago,” he told Amanda Balionis, “that I’d never eat another piece of bacon or an ice cream again in my life and I’ve adhered to it, and I never will.”
The hall-of-famer from South Africa brought a strong belief in peak physical fitness to a sport that, at that time of his career, saw more pros lifting beer glasses than barbells. 🍻 🍻 🍻
Instead he recommends eating lots of vegetables and salads for dinner, fruit with breakfast and lunch, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Looking at the diets of most Americans, Player had some advice that few of us will take. “All you’ve got to do is cut your food intake in half. That’s not a big sacrifice, and if you do it, you’re going to lose weight, you’re going to feel well.”
Player says he was long ridiculed for his fitness fanaticism, and for his habit of lifting weights. “In the early part of my career,” he says, “people thought I was an absolute nut for training with weights. But I stuck to my workout routine even during tournaments, and it paid off big time. Training the way I did gave me an edge no one could top because I knew I was in the best shape of anyone on tour. That was a big part of my mental game.”
There’s a video with some interesting archival footage, I found that lists Player’s Top 10 Rules for Fitness. About weight training he says, “It improves performance for middle aged and older people. Frailty is the ultimate enemy as you age.”
On aerobic exercise, Player says you should “get winded” at least 10 minutes every day. He also suggests you “walk at a good clip. Once walking speed starts to decline, health problems usually follow.”
Finally, Player says, for your body, “Exercise is like reading for the mind. You’ve got to exercise every muscle in your body, otherwise it just goes…like that.”
If you want inspiration: