Golf legend Gary Player says Tiger Woods‘ ability to win more major tournaments will be dictated by how long his body can sustain his career, while at the same time suggesting the U.S.’s recent Ryder Cup failure was down to their players’ focus on a long-hitting game.
Player believes Woods’ chances of adding to his 14 major wins, the last a US Open triumph in 2008, and of chasing down Jack Nicklaus‘ record of 18, is not in doubt if he can put behind him the crippling injury problems of the past decade.
“He has had three or four very serious back operations, which are obviously a big problem when you are playing golf,” the 82-year-old Player told KweseESPN in an exclusive interview.
“He has had knee operations, he is now 42 years old, so your nerves start to deteriorate. Some nerves go early, some go late, but once those go, you’ve had it; it doesn’t matter how good you are.
“But on the positive side, when he won that tournament [The Tour Championship] I have never seen excitement like it, almost anywhere in sport; it was quite amazing.
South African Player believes the role of physical fitness for golf has been undervalued in the past, though it is something that is changing as most players today put more emphasis on training.
“When I started weight training in 1953, I was considered a nut. They said ‘Gary Player will never win a golf tournament after he is 35’. Well, I won at the age of 63.
“Now guys are realizing you have to be fit if you are going to travel a world circuit, just like I did. I wanted to be the best player in the world. I wanted my record to be the best, not just in America, but in the world.”
Woods lost all four of his matches at the recent Ryder Cup at Le Golf National in Paris, as Europe thumped their rivals 17½-10½.
Player says that result illustrates one of the problems for American golf at present, that so much emphasis is put on how far players can hit the ball rather than their skill in the short-game.
One of the reasons for that, he suggests, is the lay-out of American courses which, in general, promote long hitting over accuracy.
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“There is so much emphasis being put on length these days,” Player says.
“All I hear is a father talking about his son and how far he hits the ball. We saw in the Ryder Cup, Europe annihilated America because they [the players] had to hit the ball straight.
“American golf is wide fairways and long hitting. The rest of the world is more narrow with straight hitting. That is more important.
“The old saying is, ‘you drive for show and you putt for dough’. Putting is the most important thing. I have seen many people hit long drives, but the hole meant nothing. People have to think more about hitting the ball straight.”
Player, who won nine majors in a glittering career, believes that part of the problem may be that the equipment players use is so good that it makes them believe they have to hit long.
“The equipment keeps getting better and better, and with the incentivization and massive prize-money … but the game is still putting. There have only been about 14 superstars in the history of golf; in my eyes you have to win six majors to be considered one of those. They were all great putters.”
Player adds that he drills into young players how much of golf is in the mind. Ability and physique are one thing, but conquering what might be going on in the head is a major battle, too.
“I had to get off an aeroplane, an old Constellation that took 40 hours to get to America, and play against [Arnold] Palmer and Nicklaus, and all those guys, and beat them.
“That was my great challenge.
“But I worked on my short game, and that is something I tell young people.
“Be fit, eat properly and work on the mind, because the mind is what separates you from the others.”