There is something you don’t know about Gary Player. Even at the age of 83, he regularly wakes up crying about the death of his mother from cancer when he was seven years old.
In Player’s world, it’s that loss that drives him to keep giving.
Next month, the Gary Player Invitational will celebrate its 20th anniversary as Player’s personal commitment to charity. Over the years, the tournament – now played at The Lost City Golf Club, at the Sun City resort in North West – has brought some of the world’s biggest golfers, sports stars and celebrities to South Africa to raise funds for underprivileged communities.
I don’t take anything for granted. I can’t afford to
And every one of them will tell you that they have left all the richer for it themselves, perhaps because giving to those less fortunate often reflects the challenges they have faced.
“I don’t take anything for granted. I can’t afford to,” says former Manchester United and England football star Andy Cole, one of the supporters of Player’s charity golf series. He has suffered through his own trials of a kidney disorder, and underwent a kidney transplant in 2017.
“When I fell very ill, I wasn’t sure I was going to get out of it. You never realise how ill some people are until you find yourself in their shoes. You take your hat off to a hell of a lot of people. I have sat back and said: ‘Wow, for other people to have gotten through that, it takes something special.’
“When I had dinner with Player, I was sitting there, all the time thinking this gentleman was sheer class. We can all learn from that. To be such an icon and such a global superstar, yet be so humble. It says it all. I don’t think there is a footballer I could liken him to in this respect.”
In the case of triple Major champion and current European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington, being part of the 20-year journey of the Gary Player Invitational has helped him to look himself in the mirror and be comfortable with the blessings he has received.
“As an amateur golfer, I remember once playing in Calcutta [now Kolkata], India. We were sent out there as an Irish team and we were staying in a five-star hotel, and were looked after five-star all the way. But there was some abject poverty between the hotel and the golf course. It’s difficult to play golf in that situation,” says Harrington.
“Most professional golfers do something for charity, and what lies behind it is the fact that we’re very lucky. We’re out there and we’re earning colossal sums of money throughout the year. Prize funds have gone up so much. And to be able to look at yourself in the mirror in the morning, you’ve got to give something back.”
For retired Swedish golfing legend Annika Sörenstam, supporting the fundraiser has helped her teach her children an important lesson: “You know, we drove past some pretty rural and poor areas on the way to Sun City. And that’s when you can show your kids and tell them: ‘Look, what you have is not normal. It’s a privilege.’”
Bafana Bafana legend Aaron Mokoena says: “I came from humble beginnings, so I know exactly how powerful these kinds of events are for the underprivileged.”
For New Zealand professional golfer and Major winner Michael Campbell, his experience of Player’s charity tournament has reinforced his own life philosophy: “I have this philosophy that you’re born with two hands – one to receive and one to give back.”
As Player’s own life has shown, only those who have lost something can ever know the real joy of giving to somebody else in need.