50th Anniversary of Gary Player's Masters Win

In two weeks when the year's first major starts at Augusta National Golf Club, Gary Player will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first Masters victory in 1961.

In 1961 Player became the first international golfer to don the green jacket. He repeated as champion in 1974 and again in 1978 becoming the oldest player (42) to win the Masters until Jack Nicklaus trumped him in 1986.

"Augusta National is a special place and the Masters is a special tournament. Winning it once let alone three times was incredible and being the first international player to ever win the Masters is one of the proudest accomplishments of my career," said Player. "I have promoted golf as a truly international sport for my entire career and winning the Masters proved that I could win in the USA, which was a huge help in reaching that goal.

"The Masters is the only major that stays at the same venue every year and for me it adds to the uniqueness of the tournament. I have come to Augusta for more than 50 years; everything is so familiar; it is like coming home for a week once a year. I have so many wonderful memories of this place. The memories of playing against the greatest players in the world are fantastic, but it is the time I have been able to spend with my family that are the most powerful images that are etched in my mind. My children were here to share my victories, some of my grandchildren have caddied for me during the Par-3tTournament and my wife has been with me at every Masters appearance. Those are the moments that I will always cherish."

Arnold Palmer reflected on the final round in 1961. "My friend Gary and I had quite a few competitive confrontations in tournaments over the many years of our competitive careers," Palmer said. "Winning meant everything to both of us; an attitude that I'm sure Gary will agree enabled us to achieve the success we have had in golf. Perhaps the most memorable battle occurred in the 1961 Masters, a tournament that was filled with a parade of ups and downs for the two of us that week in Augusta.

"I'll never forget the final round that year. Gary was sailing along with the lead until he took a double-bogey at the 13th hole and a bogey at the 15th. So, after making tough pars finishing up, he was a shot behind me. I was just playing the 15th. I ground out three pars and hit a good tee shot on the 18th.

"However, I allowed myself to be distracted before hitting my approach and pushed my 7-iron shot into the right bunker. Where Gary had gotten up and down from that same trap an hour or so earlier, I hit a poor sand shot that went over the green and down the slope on the other side. A pitch and two putts later, I had lost my chance to be the first back-to-back winner of the Masters and Gary had his first of three victories at Augusta.

"While I have always considered that one of the most crushing defeats of my career, it still takes nothing away from the victory of Gary Player. He shot his first three rounds in the 60s and made those final tough pars when he had to for what he must consider one of the most important victories of his life. He can certainly be proud of it on the 50th anniversary of that significant occasion."

Nicklaus said about Player's first win: "I was still an amateur in 1961 and I don't remember a great deal about that Masters, beyond the fact that Gary won and Arnold finished in a tie for second with Charlie Coe. But I know that his victory marked the first Masters Tournament won by a foreign-born player and it's only fitting, because Gary has been such a wonderful global ambassador for the game.

"The first time I saw Gary Player was in 1958 at Southern Hills. He finished second and I thought that was pretty remarkable in and by itself - this young South African coming here and finishing second in our national open. So I started taking an interest in him. Over the years my interest in Gary grew into a friendship that is perhaps my closest in the game of golf.

"Gary is not only a wonderful person, but has always been a fantastic player. There is perhaps no player who has done more with his God-given ability than Gary. He might be considered slight in stature, but he has always been a fierce competitor. Gary plays every shot like it is the most important. You could argue that he might be, pound-for-pound, one of the best our game has seen. It's either him or Ben Hogan. But if you are forced to choose between those two, that's a pretty good compliment."

Player's career at the Masters spanned more than 50 years, but the 1960s are perhaps the most storied decade of his career at Augusta and arguable in Masters history. That decade saw the emergence of the "Big Three": Player, Palmer and Nicklaus. From 1960-1966, either Player, Palmer or Nicklaus tried on the green jacket; 1967 and 1969 were the only two years that none of them won. In addition to eight Masters' titles, the trio tallied 15 top-10 finishes (Player seven, Palmer five and Nicklaus three) and established themselves as the best players in the world.

"The '60s was an incredible time in my career, especially at Augusta," Player added. "Jack, Arnold and I were beating each others brains out all over the place but we really took our games to a different level at the Masters. In 1961, I was in a heated battle with Arnold Palmer and his 'Army' was out in full force. The crowd was yelling and hooting at every shot Arnold hit and there were not many people (other than my wife and my dog) pulling for me. But every time the crowd cheered for Arnold it motivated me. They did not realize it, but they were helping me win. It was one of the first times that I can clearly remember myself loving pressure and feeding off of it. That experience gave me the knowledge that pressure was not to be feared, it was to be loved and it has stuck with me ever since."

Some highlights of Player's career at Augusta:

Competed in 52 Masters, the most ever. Arnold Palmer is second with 50.
Oldest player to make the cut at age 62 (1998)
Won three Masters over an 18-year span
First international player to win in 1961