Although Player willingly acknowledges his love of the drama of tournament golf, he firmly believes that his greatest asset under the pressure of competition comes from "guts." He translates this as "my belief"—that is, his spiritual faith. Player carries a Bible with him wherever he goes and tries to read a little of it every night before he goes to sleep. Another book he carries and reads often is The Imitation of Christ, a volume that was a gift from Tom Nieporte, one of his closest friends among the touring pros. Like Player, Nieporte gives a lot of attention to the spiritual side of life, and Player describes him as "one of the finest men you could ever meet anywhere."
A family man to his finger tips, Player spends most of his off hours with his wife and the children when they are traveling with him. He has an old-fashioned belief in the importance of discipline, and recently when Jenny, a gay and chubby little girl, refused to obey her father's order to leave the bedside telephone alone, he shook his finger in her face and shouted sternly, "If you do that again, I'll whack you."
In the evening after the children have gone to bed, Gary and Vivienne Player are apt to lie on the beds in their motel room and watch television. Then, perhaps, Gary will play a few records on the stereo phonograph. His taste in music runs to Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley and other popular moderns that have caught the fancy of the younger generation. "Gary has a nice feeling for music," Vivienne says in her quiet, wifely way. "It relaxes him. I think he could learn to play an instrument very quickly if he ever decided to take one up."
The family unity of the Players lies deep. Player is extremely close to his 61-year-old father, and when he began to make money out of golf he was able to get his father out of the mines and set him up in business supplying equipment to mining companies. He also has a deep affection for his brother Ian, a South African game warden, and his married sister Wilma. Player's mother died when he was only 8, so he was raised by his father, who has had to serve in the capacity of both parents. This summer, for the second time in his brief career, Player is giving his father a trip to the British Open. "He deserves it," Gary says. "He's been a wonderful father to me."
It was Player's father, a two-handicap left-handed golfer some years ago, who started him in golf. When Gary was 15 his father gave him a rudimentary set of golf clubs and the lad took them out for a round at the Virginia Park course in the country near Johannesburg. By then he was already a fine natural athlete, and he shot par on the first three holes he ever played. Among those who were impressed was Jock Verwey, the pro at Virginia Park. He was soon giving young Player lessons.
A lot of Player's early golf was played with Verwey's daughter Vivienne, who was a year younger than he and an excellent golfer in her own right, later playing to a two handicap. They became sweethearts, and Player now says proudly, "She's the only girl I ever had." They were married in 1956, the year of Player's second trip abroad.
Until he began to make a go of it as a touring pro, Player worked at Virginia Park as an assistant to Verwey, helping to repair clubs, giving occasional lessons and practicing in the early morning and far into the night. Today the Players' only home is with the Verweys in their house in Johannesburg, although Gary has a chicken farm in the country and hopes soon to build a house of his own.
What with the duties of motherhood, Vivienne hasn't played a round of golf since Jenny was born. But she is the ideal golf wife. She loves to follow her husband around the course, is considerate enough to remain anonymous in the crowd, but will respond intelligently if he should want to talk about his playing problems, as he sometimes does. A pretty girl of about Player's height (5 feet 7� inches), with an athletic figure and brown hair streaked with blonde, Vivienne certainly rates among the more comely of the golfing wives.
Possibly because the current political turmoil in Africa is so much in the news, there have been rumors that Player is a passionate supporter of the apartheid policies of the Nationalist government of Hendrik Verwoerd. Actually, he is pretty much of an apolitical animal who is quick to explain that "I've had very little time in my life for learning much about politics. But I will say this," he goes on. "Any government that is elected by the people of South Africa will do its best for the entire country. I know that. And with the white people in our country in such a minority, you couldn't very well give the blacks complete freedom and power. All you have to do is look at the trouble in the Congo to realize it wouldn't be very long before the blacks would chop off all our heads."