The Par-3 course at Augusta National occupies the northeast corner of the grounds, with Magnolia Lane nearby, running north to Washington Road. Neatly slotted between the Par-3 course and Magnolia Lane is a relatively small practice area – not the main practice range – tucked away from the busier parts of the club. The main action takes place on the other side of the clubhouse.
Yesterday afternoon this tranquil practice area was deserted until Gary Player marched out to warm-up before his Par-3 Contest tee time with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. There was a small gathering of patrons on hand, in an orderly queue waiting for a photo opportunity on Founders Circle, in front of the clubhouse. To the South African legend, this was not a queue of people, but an audience to be entertained.
“Still got it Gary,” offered one of the patrons as Player, 77, three times a Masters champion, started hitting wedges.
“I have to have it!” shouted back Player. “I have 23 grandchildren and own 100 horses!”
Then he started giving tips.
“Pay attention,” he said. “This is the most important lesson you will ever get. In your downswing, turn from your middle,” instructed Player, with his hand on his belt buckle. “That’s where the power comes from. You watch Tiger Woods and see how he turns through the ball.”
Someone else asked player to show him a fade.
“If you fade the ball,” snapped Player, “you’ll fade out of the game. Why would I want to fade the ball?
“A man once asked me how to get a three-iron to stop on the green. I asked him how far he hit his three-iron. ‘120 yards,’ he said. So I said to him, ‘Why on Earth would you want it to stop?'”
Then Player was joined on the practice tee by his caddie for the day, one of his 23 grandchildren, eight-year-old Sebastian, dressed in the customary white Masters boiler suit and green cap, with ‘PLAYER’ across the shoulders.
Player said to his grandson: “Now, when you meet Mr. Palmer and Mr. Nicklaus, what is the first thing you are going to do?” Sebastian dutifully removed his cap and offered out his hand. “That’s right,” said Player. “And then you say: ‘Nice to meet you Mr. Palmer’; ‘Nice to meet you Mr. Nicklaus’.”
I sought out Player under the oak tree this morning, after he had completed his duty as honorary starter with Palmer and Nicklaus, and reminded him of yesterday’s impromptu performance, and the instructions he issued to Sebastian.
Player lifted his finger: “As Winston Churchill said, ‘manners maketh a man’.”
Only at the Masters.
Robin Barwick travelled to the 2013 Masters with Mercedes-Benz, International Partner of the Masters Tournament