Johannesburg – One South African icon paid tribute to another during the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City on Friday, when Gary Player spoke fondly and with great passion about Nelson Mandela and how much the great man had meant not only to him personally but to this country and indeed the entire world.
“I remember the days when we used to have the Nelson Mandela Invitational golf tournament at Pecanwood and it was my job to greet Madiba when he arrived,” said Player. “As he climbed out of the helicopter and I went up to him he smiled that big smile of his and said, ‘Good morning Gary, do you remember me?’ Just wonderful.”
That, said the nine-time Major champion, summed up the astonishing humility that Nelson Mandela displayed in spite of being the great statesman and leader that he was.
“Today is a very sad one, but also a day of celebration because of what he actually gave this country,” Player remarked.
“I mean, if it was not for him there would have been enormous bloodshed, but at a time when we really desperately needed somebody to lead us into a new era, he did so in exemplary fashion with no thoughts of revenge or bitterness in spite of all the adversity that he had to face in his life.”
Player recounted how when he first met Mandela at the president’s office in downtown Johannesburg he was very tearful because the man had gone to jail for all those years for doing the right thing, and not the wrong thing, and yet had forgiveness as opposed to revenge in his heart.
“That’s why I knelt down and kissed his feet and I said I have never kissed anybody's feet in my life and I have so much admiration for you. I said to him, it is remarkable, how can you not have revenge? Madiba said, ‘Gary, if you have revenge and hatred in your heart it will destroy you, just like a green apple may look beautiful on the outside but if it’s rotten on the inside it will eventually destroy the whole apple.”
Player, who is 78, then said that when he died, he did not want friends and family to mope around and cry, but rather to rejoice because he’s had such a wonderful life.
He said he wanted to be cremated and his ashes thrown on his farm in Colesberg, with those he leaves behind rejoicing. “And”, he added, “I know president Mandela would like us to rejoice today.”
Until Madiba’s passing, I was going to write this column about a completely different golf topic, which incorporated a touch of humour from that wonderful comedian Bob Hope who was a golf nut and wrote a book entitled Confessions of a Hooker – My lifelong love affair with golf.
Well, as it turns out, a little quote from Hope’s book is still kind of relevant.
Bob was getting on in years when the book was published and he wrote: “My handicap now is 20, the highest it’s ever been.
“I think I’m actually about a 17 or 18 and with a little work I could get it down to a 15. We all feel we’re a little better than we actually are.
“A guy came into the locker room at my club one day and his friend asked him, ‘Did you shoot your usual game?’ The man thought about it for a while and then replied, ‘No, and come to think of it, I never have.’”
A lot of us fairway hackers can probably identify with that. But Nelson Mandela was different.
He always shot his usual game. And what a magnificent game it was.