Gary Player: Winning The Open is always special – but you need patience

Every time you win The Open there’s a reason why. My first Open, in 1959, being the youngest man at the time to win a Grand Slam event, and needing the money, and my wife, Vivienne, flying all the way from South Africa to meet me in London and travel up to Scotland  to triumph at my first attempt, at a beautiful course like Muirfield.

Fortunately, I made a very good score (284) in testing, windy, and rainy conditions, so it was a really special achievement. To think that Phil Mickelson, when he won at Muirfield back in 2013, there was no strong wind and he shot 281, with modern day equipment – so, I guess my win wasn’t bad at all!

I keep reading about how great these guys are today, but I don’t believe the top ten players today of today would beat the leading ten players from my time – I really don’t think so. With the advanced equipment and the excellent conditions of the golf courses these days, when you compare the scores that we had with the scores of today, it tells its own story.

My second Open win came at Carnoustie in 1968, and to hit a shot like I did at the 14th hole with a 3-wood, when I was just one shot ahead of Jack Nicklaus, Bob Charles, Billy Casper and Maurice Bembridge – to hit it to within 8-inches of the hole and then go on and win. That was something special.

My third win came at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1974 on the Lancashire coast. I had a six-shot lead with two holes to go. The galleries reckoned that even Ray Charles could win from there.

The Open is my favourite tournament in the world, so all my wins are important to me – and they’re all my favourite, if I’m allowed to say that.

The travelling to and from tournaments in those days was a very tough ordeal, especially in the 1950s, because we didn’t have jets. My wife, Vivienne, would sometimes have to fly over to the United States without me, and sometimes, when I was with her, it was the two of us and six children with no beds, no headphones, no television. People were allowed to sleep on the floor in those days. So it’s a much different deal now. Back in 1955, at my first Open at St Andrews, I couldn’t get a room anywhere in the Auld Town. Being unfamiliar I didn’t know all the hotels, and in those days you never made bookings 6-8 months ahead. So, I just went and lay down right where they filmed ‘Chariots of Fire’ in the dunes. Fortunately, it was a beautiful evening. I put my rain gear on, put my golf clubs down and slept there – and it was very comfortable.

Tactically, you’ve got to be astute to play links golf well. You’ve got to keep the ball in play, because in The Open, if you make a mistake off the tee you’ll have a tough job to make par. But if you keep the ball on the fairway, even if you’re a short hitter, if you make a mistake from there and miss the green – you still should have a good chance of making par from around the green. There’s a big difference between making a mistake off the tee and making one from the fairway.

Bobby Locke won four Opens playing a big draw, so I don’t think it matters whether you hit a draw or a fade. In fact I think a draw in windy conditions is a massive advantage over a fade. A draw bores its way through the wind, whereas with a fade – the wind can grab it and up-shoot it because it’s a weaker shot.

I’ve always preferred a draw to a fade in any conditions, it’s far superior. The links courses are an integral part of The Open, and for me, my greatest joy is to play links golf courses, because on the links you have to use your natural ability throughout the four days. Depending on the weather you could be hitting a pitching wedge 70 yards or 150 yards. So, unless it’s a totally calm day, precise yardages can mean absolutely nothing.

My favourite of the Open venues is Turnberry. Muirfield takes some beating, but the changes that have been made to Turnberry under Donald Trump’s ownership have been absolutely sensational and it’s probably the best course in Europe now. The tees are up in the dunes so you can see the ocean. They’ve really made some wonderful changes.

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