50 years on from his Open victory at Carnoustie, nine-time Major champion Gary Player talked exclusively to Golf Monthly about that win and this year’s championship.
Gary Player: Open thoughts from a three-time champion
How does it feel to come back to Carnoustie where you were Open champion 50 years ago?
It’s always a pleasure to come back to Carnoustie. I headed to Muirfield 10 days ago which is where I won my first Open and that was special too. My grandparents were from Scotland so that was very touching to win two of my Opens in Scotland and coming back to those venues is always fantastic.
And does it seem so long ago that you were lofting the Claret Jug here?
Well, I remember it very clearly, particularly that final day. The wind was blowing, and the conditions were very difficult. There were five of us within one shot on the last day. I was playing with Jack Nicklaus who was one back of me, Bob Charles, Billy Casper and Maurice Bembridge were also all within one.
And you hit that incredible shot on the 14th…
The 14th sticks out and will stay with me forever. The wind was blowing and I hit a drive up the right side, I then hit a 3-wood 242 yards into the wind and finished eight inches from the hole. What a time to hit that shot. It’s the greatest shot I’ve ever played. Really, it was not on to do that at that stage. You’ve got to know the conditions, you have to know “The Spectacles” bunkers and over that you have heather and over that you have more bunkers and you have to put it within 10-feet of where you’re aiming into the wind. And then you have to get the right bounce… It came off though and I went on to win by two.
How will the course play this week?
This is my 63rd occasion in a row at The Open and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ball running as far as it is this year. Ernie Els was saying that a drive is running a minimum of 60 yards – that’s very difficult to judge. He said on the 10th, he nearly drove into the burn, and some of the players were even driving into the burn on 18! Jack Nicklaus was as long as anybody playing today and I remember him hitting a drive and a 3-wood into 18. So, this is abnormal, they’ll be hitting irons off the tee all over the place, but the thing is you can’t fight nature. This is what has been presented this week and that is what the players will have to deal with.
Links golf presents a different test…
Yes, that’s why this is the greatest championship in the world because, the first hole today you hit a driver and a pitching wedge and you look at your yardage book and tomorrow you might hit driver and a three-iron. So yardage books don’t really mean much, you play with instinct and you’ve got to trust that. It was always my very favourite type of golf to play and to get my hands on the Claret Jug three times was very special indeed.
You have to stay patient playing links golf…
You could get in a bunker and you might have to play out backwards. You might get a bad draw, you can get on the wrong side of the draw and it becomes very difficult for you, so yes you have to try to take all these things, all these variables, in your stride.
Could you pick a potential winner this week?
It’s extremely open at the moment. There are so many players who could win this week. It would be difficult to place a bet. Nobody sticks out more than anyone else. When Tiger Woods was at his best then yes, Jack Nicklaus or Hogan… yes. Hogan was the best golfer I’ve ever seen in my life. But right now, there’s nobody who stands clear above the rest. So, yes, very difficult to pick a winner this week.
Golf is such a different game to other sports. I was at Wimbledon for three days and in the last 16 Wimbledon tournaments you’ve had only four winners. In the last 16 Opens there have been 13 different winners, not including this year. In golf, almost anyone in the field this week could win. The man who wins will have come out on top against 155 other players, that’s quite an achievement.