Golf bid farewell to one of its greatest masters on Monday with the death of Arnold Palmer at the age of 87.
The tributes since have been touching and innumerable with everyone from his oldest adversary, Jack Nicklaus, to the the President of the United States, Barack Obama, hailing the man known as ‘The King’
Gary Player, who along with Palmer and Nicklaus made up golf’s original “Big Three,” has also spoken of his fond memories of his “dear friend”.
Joining Chris and Marc live on Sports Tonight from his home in South Africa, Player recalled their time spent together and hailed Palmer’s genuine warmth towards people.
“We were friends for 60 years. We traveled the world together, we competed against each other and we loved each other,” said Player. “Arnold and I laughed together, and we cried together.
“We helped each other with our charities around the world. And I must say ,I said to Arnold at the Masters this year, ‘are you scared of dying’ because I really thought he was going to die. And he said, ‘no, I’m not.’
Player, who won nine majors compared to Palmer’s seven, added: “I sent him an SMS [on Monday] saying ‘Listen Arnie, make sure you’ve got a great golf course up in heaven and have it ready for Jack Nicklaus and I. We’re not ready to come yet but make sure it’s in good shape and ask Ben Hogan to make a fourth when we get there.’
“I have a very different view on death. I think it’s a time to celebrate particularly when you’ve lived for 87 years and had the wonderful live that Arnold had.
“All in all it’s been a great journey. If I had lived like Arnold Palmer I would have died at 70! He loved his little toddies at night, he was a smoker, he didn’t worry about what he ate. He was what I called ‘Tarzan’.”
Asked whether he agreed with the assertion that Palmer, with over 90 career wins to his name, was the ‘most important golfer of all-time’, Player said: “If you’re talking about a man who had charisma, a man who really loved people and people loved him you’d have to say he’s No1”
Player on one of his fondest memories of ‘Arnie’…
“I used to fly a lot with him in his own plane. And he flew it exactly like he played golf. If he saw a little hole in the tree he’d take a three iron and try and go through it while most people would chip out. I used to get so nervous sometimes I’d lie on the floor like an ostrich and not look where we were going!
“But we had times when we doing a challenge series called ‘Challenge Golf’ and Arnold and I played against 30 other teams of which we won I think we won 29 times.
“There was this one time, we had to do a take, and we started looking at each other. We started giggling and we couldn’t stop and the producer got so upset he said ‘you are costing me thousands of dollars in tape and film. Can you please stop laughing?’. And of course we couldn’t and had to come back the next day.”
*Listen to the full interview with Gary Player above in which he also talks of his pride that Saadiyat Beach Golf Club will stage Abu Dhabi’s first ever professional female tournament: the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open.