Death, taxes and Gary Player bigging himself up on commentary

Mark McGowan

Gary Player (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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It’s not easy to sit and write whilst simultaneously trying to keep an eye on golf, but the Nedbank Challenge was on, and with Tom McKibbin – playing some sneakily excellent golf of late, by the way –  joining the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, Max Homa, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose, it’s one of the more interesting events that the DP World Tour have served up since the Irish Open.

McKibbin may as well have been a ghost as far as the coverage was concerned, but you take the good with the bad, this we’ve come to expect. As a DP World Tour rookie, he’s already exceeded expectations and gotten his first win, but he’s not yet a big enough fish to compete with Fleetwood, Homa, Thomas, Adrian Meronk, or Ryan Fox, not even big enough to compete with the Hojgaard twins, but by this time next year there’s every chance that he’ll be one of the big-name DP World Tour regulars, taking his place in featured groups in some of the Tour’s upper-crust events.

But that’s not why I’m writing this. The real reason I’m writing about the Nedbank coverage is the ‘Man in Black,’ the Sun City golf course designer, the nine-time major champion, the one and only Mr. Gary Player. Player stepped into the commentary booth and, sure as night follows day, when there’s a mic, an audience, or any other opportunity to let his mouth work overdrive, he delivered in spades.

And look, I get it. The Nedbank Challenge is one of the big-money events on the DPWT circuit, and Player’s involvement and association is one of the main reasons why there are $6 million up for grabs this week, but with that comes a certain fawning. We heard tales from a co-commentator – you’ll forgive me if I can’t quite recall who said it – of his son and daughter encountering a beast of in the gym, running the treadmill like a man possessed before crushing sit-ups with a 100lb weight on his chest, then doing it all over again.

Never one for modesty, Player lapped it up, and then proceeded to inform us that he still shoots level-par approaching 90, albeit from the forward tees. The forward tees admission was a moment of unexpected humbleness, but it wasn’t long before we were learning of how he sculpted the modestly titled Gary Player Golf Course on which the tournament is being played out of terrain unimaginable for a golf course, how he diagnosed that Justin Thomas’ issues were over after seeing him taking one swing on the first tee, how he’d built schools and hospitals and how he was going to bring Tiger Woods back to the event in the coming years, even though Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus were superior players to Woods in Players’ opinion.

All well and good, and all par for the course, but it wasn’t until Augusta National came into the conversation that he strayed from the self-aggrandising and conceited path he knows best. Annika Sorenstam becoming a recent member of Augusta was something he applauded – no surprise there since the two appeared side-by-side to get their Presidential Medals of Freedom less than 24-hours after Donald Trump had played no small part in whipping his supporters into a frenzy that led to them storming the Capitol in Washington D.C. – but he couldn’t resist a little dig at Augusta National itself.

Player’s thoughts on the club where he won three of his nine major championships were made public shortly before this year’s Masters  but this time he found a new angle for criticism, saying he didn’t agree with the female host who said that the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was a positive move. This didn’t actually appear on the Sky Sports Broadcast as they were on an ad break at the time, and it was only through a clip posted on ‘X’ that UK and Irish viewers were made aware of the Augusta National conversation, so in the interest of fairness, I’m not going to be critical as Player may have expanded and argued his point afterwards, but it’s disappointing that we never got to hear his explanation.

Still, despite it all, like a real-life David Brent, there’s something alluring about him and his constant need for attention and compliments. Yes there’s an ‘old man yelling at clouds’ element, and yes, I’d say after a full evening in his company you’d be tempted to strangle him, but for an hour or so in the commentary box, for the cringe factor if nothing more, he’s pure gold.

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