GULLANE, Scotland — Gary Player is as eager to share his thoughts about golf as he is to show off his body.
Player, who posed without clothes in ESPN The Magazine’s body issue to make a point about the dangers of obesity, has voiced his opinion on everything in golf from the way the ball travels to the possible use of drugs in the sport.
He returned to Muirfield on Tuesday not to talk about problems in the game, but to reminisce about winning his first Open here in 1959.
“I came here as a young man with no money and to win this great championship and have your name on that trophy meant so much to me,” Player said. “Then when I came through those gates this morning and I looked up the 18th fairway here at Muirfield and just said a little prayer of thanks and gratitude that I could have the career I have been loaned.”
Player said he meant “loaned” for a reason. He said golf is such a fickle game that nothing is permanent, mentioning players such as David Duval and Ian Baker-Finch as Open champions who could never reach the top level of golf again.
“Also to see a man like Tiger Woods what he went through, great adversity, but to come back and be No. 1 in the world,” Player said.
Player, 77, is tied for fourth place all time with Ben Hogan with nine major titles, including three in the British Open.
After winning his first at Muirfield in 1959 he came back to win at Carnoustie in 1968 before taking his final title in 1974 at Royal Lytham.
Player said it won’t necessarily be the best ball striker who wins this week but the player who putts best and manages his game.
“The man who has the best mind this week and the man who putts the best will conquer Muirfield,” he said.
Not even Woods can get special treatment at Muirfield.
Woods wanted to get out early Monday for a practice round on the links course, only to be told that tee times didn’t begin until 7 a.m. No exceptions, even for the most famous player.
Woods said he was told that the grounds crew would be starting its morning rounds on the first hole to get them used to the routine for the tournament, and that the course would not be ready until 7 a.m.
“I totally understand it,” Woods said.
RECOGNIZE THE NAME?
There’s a reason Brooks Koepka is the best young American golfer you’ve never heard of.
It has less to do with his game than his passport. The Florida native has collected four wins, but also 48 pages of government stamps and almost as many adventures in the last 10 months while playing in 11 countries. His 2013 season-opening itinerary included India, South Africa and Kenya.
And don’t even ask about the horsemeat dinner in Kazakhstan. Or cobbling together connecting flights between Tenerife, Canary Islands, and Prague, Czech Republic.
“The road’s not for everyone,” Koepka said with a laugh. “You have to get used to being away, and being alone. It can be tough. Pretty much all you have is golf.
“But getting to see the world at 23,” he added, “that’s pretty cool.”
The extended road trip became part of a master plan Koepka hatched after missing the cut at last year’s U.S. Open, then turning pro and failing to get through qualifying school for the PGA Tour.
In a poll of golf architects taken by Golf Course Architecture, a journal of golf design and development, the Old Course at St. Andrews was picked as the top course in the world. In second place was Cypress Point in California. Pacific Dunes in Oregon was the highest-rated course in the Northwest at No. 20. No Washington course made the list. ... Woods, the winner at St. Andrews in 2000 and 2005 and Royal Liverpool in 2006, is coming off a four-week break because of soreness in his left elbow. Woods has a PGA Tour-high four victories this year to push his career total to 78, four short of Sam Snead’s tour record. ... The tournament will be played next year at Royal Liverpool, and the 2015 event is set for St. Andrews.