Veteran golfer Gary Player explains why it's crucial to look after yourself

Veteran golfer Gary Player has just turned 78 and still follows a strict fitness regimen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 2:54pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 2:54pm

Merely listening to veteran golfer Gary Player recite his daily fitness regimen is enough to induce feelings of weariness and breathlessness, not to mention awe and admiration.

Player, who turned 78 this month, does about 1,000 press-ups or sit-ups almost every single day and often puts in a round of golf at one of the 300 courses he has designed in different parts of the world - including Kau Sai Chau, off Sai Kung, in Hong Kong.

The way we are going, the world is becoming desperately sick
Gary player

The lean and lithe South African sporting legend, the most successful international golfer of all time, has been a fitness advocate for more than half a century. It has given him the physical stamina and mental sharpness to continue playing, and working, into old age.

He has a formidable annual schedule which involves zig-zagging across the globe, often by private jet, from his two home bases: a vast estate in South Africa or the golf-oriented Jupiter Island in Florida. Last week, he was in Shanghai hosting the annual Gary Player International.

Yet, when he first joined the international golf circuit, his devotion to a strict daily routine was considered extreme, even eccentric.

"When I first started on the golf circuit I used to go the YMCA and work out there - I was ridiculed and called a nut in those days; nobody did weights. Now [golfers] have a travelling gymnasium," says Player.

"I look at people my age on the tour and they can't travel like I do. They don't have the energy, their quality of life is diminishing, whereas mine is getting stronger."

The results of his gym work are obvious: he walks vigorously, thinks quickly and talks eloquently and passionately, particularly when it comes to his two pet topics, health and environmental degradation.

"Very few 30 year olds would beat me in a fitness contest," says Player, matter-of-factly. "Exercise is so important. I complete my fitness regimen four times a week, unless I am in one place, in which case it is every day.

"I always say it's thin to win; fat and you end up on the mat. When I was nine years old, my brother went to war and he made me promise that I would exercise while he was away."

Player is a virtual teetotaler - only a glass of whisky once a month - and follows a strictly modulated diet, avoiding fatty or sweet foods wherever possible and eating meat sparingly.

Beijing-based consultant Justin Downes, who runs Axis Leisure Management, has worked with Player on several golf projects in China. He is in awe of the golfer's stamina and uncompromising attitude to fitness.

"I might do 1,000 sit ups in a five-year span, and he can do that in a day. He is an inspiration. His passion and energy far surpass that of someone a fraction of his age. His enthusiasm never changes no matter how hard he works," says Downes.

"He is not ready to retire. His body and mind are not at the point where he wants to sit and sip a pina colada and watch the sunset; that is just not him. He will be the same until he just physically cannot do it any more."

Over the past three decades, the Player Foundation has raised about US$50 million, which is helping educate destitute children around the world. Money raised at last week's invitational in Shanghai will be used to assist HIV/Aids-afflicted orphans in Yunnan province.

Player is a huge admirer of China's economic success, but disapproves of the growing fast-food culture and the rising levels of obesity and diabetes. He is also cynical of the contemporary habit of quickly blaming ailments on stress.

"You have to find ways to combat it. Unfortunately, they don't teach people in schools how to eat properly, exercise and prepare themselves for life. They should be saying to them, 'You will have stress in your life. Here is a way to combat it'," he says.

"I don't know anybody in the world that doesn't live with stress, it is a matter of teaching yourself how to handle it. I think the best way is by eating well, exercising, sleeping well and no smoking or drinking."

Player, who has six children and 22 grandchildren, is an advocate of governments providing financial incentives for people who keep in good shape, thereby making them, in theory, less likely to use public medical facilities.

"Obesity is the tsunami of the world," he says. "The way we are going, the world is becoming desperately sick and governments will not be able to afford it. The human being is going to have to be rewarded for looking after himself.

"We have to do more incentives for people who are looking after their health - which cost countries less - like a tax deduction if you can do 'x' amount of push-ups, or can run a certain distance, or have low sugar count, or low cholesterol," he says.

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