Gary Player hasn’t lost a single step. At 80 years old, the legendary sportsman and outspoken “International Ambassador of Golf” is still playing and working just as hard as he did in his prime, and he isn’t afraid of letting everybody know. Over his remarkable career, he’s reached the pinnacle of success, netting an incredible nine majors and becoming one of only 5 golfers to win a career Grand Slam (winning all four major tournaments). Thanks to his wonderful bravado and remarkable skill on the links, he helped shape golf into the sport it is today. His balmy summer showdowns with friends and rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus are the stuff of sport legend and has catapulted golf into the center of American consciousness, ushering the game from behind walled country clubs and to the hands of the masses.
And along for nearly every step on his lifelong journey in professional golf has been Rolex. Pieces from one of the world’s foremost Swiss luxury watch brands have found a home on Player’s wrist for over half a century, and all these years later, the sports legend still has nothing but wonderful words to say about the company and the timepieces they create “[Rolex] is one of the finest companies, and in my 80 years, I’ve worked with a lot of different companies,” ensures Player.
So what does it take to earn 60 years of adoration? Consistency seems to be the key, and Player remains impressed with the timepieces Rolex produces. “Everything in business is negotiable except quality, and that exemplifies Rolex: quality.”
Sadly, Player hasn’t always had the pleasure of enjoying quality timepieces. He had to work hard for them, and he’s very proud of how far he’s come in this life and the strenuous effort it took to get there. The son of a gold miner, he was born in working class South Africa, and wasn’t in the position to afford anything close to a Rolex for much of his youth. “I was making 30 pounds a month for three years, so I didn’t have much money,” remembers Player. Clearly, a Rolex was well beyond the means of a young Gary Player.
When thinking back to the first watch he ever owned, his memory was fuzzy, but it certainly wasn’t of the same caliber of his current favorite pieces. “The first watch I ever had, I don’t remember the make of it, but it was a very cheap watch. Something that couldn’t keep time religiously.”
When Player finally worked his way to becoming a professional golfer and netting his first Rolex, the piece shined even brighter due to the hard work it took to acquire. “You can imagine what a thrill that was for a young man to be wearing a Rolex watch, particularly if you were as poor as I was. No one in my family ever even dreamt of owning a Rolex watch,” says Player with a chuckle.
Nowadays, Player finds himself cycling through a handful of select pieces. For the average day on his farm, where he raises world-class thoroughbreds, he often wears a steel Deepsea. “For every day, my steel Deepsea with a black face is super,” exclaims Player, adding, “When I work on my farm, I have to be careful because it’s dusty, so I make a point of keeping them in my pocket usually when I’m working. When people are around, or when I’m at dinner, obviously I wear my watch.”
According to Player, one of the benefits of wearing a Rolex is their unparalleled dependability, a feature he appreciates due to his non-stop lifestyle. “It’s such a versatile watch, I just put it over the tap and wipe it with my facecloth. It’s clean and it’s a warhorse. It’s got so much quality, that I don’t care where you take it, even underwater. It just comes out on top all the time. The words that come to mind every time I wear it is ‘What a quality watch,’” says Player excitedly.
Whether it’s designing golf courses, breeding race horses, playing in tournaments, or doing work with the Gary Player Foundation, he’s always on the move. In fact, Player travels so often, he feels confident enough to make a rather audacious claim. “Well I’ve traveled more miles than any human being ever. That’s 63 years of continuous travel. Nobody does that, not even pilots,” he says.
The golfing legend is also still as physically active as ever. In fact, right after our interview he headed to the gym for a workout that would exhaust even the most strapping 20-year-old. “At the age of 80, I still push 400 pounds with my legs in the leg press. This afternoon, I will do 1,300 sit-ups, crunches and planks, and I still put the treadmill on at max,” says Player matter-of-factly, continuing, “I have a zest for life.” He credits his healthy lifestyle and love of weight training for his success in golf. In particular, he says his intense exercise regimen gave him the edge in winning the Senior Grand Slam, which he considers the highlight of his professional career. “I was able to win the Senior Grand Slam for a very particular reason: because I worked out and started weight training in golf in 1953. I was called a nut and [told] that I’d never be able to last doing weight training, and the fact that I was so fit, when I became a senior at the age of 50, I was almost as fit as I was when I was 35, which not everybody else can say. And that’s the reason I went on to win it. So, I was being rewarded for my hard work.”
For his absolute favorite pieces to wear on the road, Gary finds himself returning to two specific watches. “I must say that my favorite watches are the Platinum Oyster Perpetual Day Date as well as my Yellow Gold GMT Master watch. I think those are absolutely fantastic,” he remarks. The Gold GMT master, in particular, holds a special significance. Player tells heartbreaking stories of his father toiling away in the dark recesses of a gold mine, a sacrifice that weighs on his mind while wearing it. The gold of his GMT Master serves as a constant reminder.
“My father worked in a gold mine 8,000 feet down in the ground, and I went down to watch this one time with Arnold Palmer. For every—and I think I’m correct in saying this—but for every 8 tons of rock that is mined, you get one ounce of gold, so anytime anybody wears anything with gold, they should put great value in it because, my goodness. Those people under the ground worked their tail off to get it,” Player reports, adding, “There’s never a day where I’m traveling with my gold master—there’s never a day, never a day—that I don’t put it on and think of my father, who worked down in that damn hole.”
For Player, remaining gracious and recognizing all of the hard work and sacrifice that went into giving him the life he enjoys now is of the utmost importance. “Gratitude is a terribly important thing of which my life revolves around. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t have a prayer of thanks and gratitude for the gifts that I am bestowed upon in my life,” says Player, his words heavy with appreciation.
Player’s intense admiration for Rolex extends beyond the luxurious product they produce. He also finds himself in awe of how the company is run. He recalls a trip to Geneva where he received an up-close look at the inner workings of Rolex. “That week, I met all kinds of people [employed by Rolex] involved in all different stations. I can tell you they all spoke so highly of Rolex, and it was such a clean factory and so well organized, that you come to discover the true value of a Rolex watch, and what it stood for,” says Player, adding, “They are just a great all-around company. An incredible company.”
So what’s next for Player? We’re sure he’ll continue traveling, working, golfing and training way beyond everyone’s expectations, not letting his age outstrip his zest for life. We also expect that the golfer will be wearing a Rolex every step of the way.