Sunshine Tour pros remain in awe of Gary Player.
By Michael Vlismas.
The Sunshine Tour professionals gathered in support of Gary Player, who helped to lay the platform for the Tour they compete on and whose career they seek to emulate, as they joined sports celebrities and business leaders in the first round of the Gary & Vivienne Player Invitational at The Lost City Golf Course on Saturday.
The professionals are playing in this star-studded pro-am field as part of the drive to raise funds for the Gary & Vivienne Player Foundation and its work supporting the Blair Atholl Pre-Primary School.
Saturday's first round saw the team of Sunshine Tour professional James Hart du Preez, Sunshine Tour Commissioner Thomas Abt, businessman Simon Hill and former cricketer Robert Frylinck take a one-point lead on 94 points.
There was a lengthy delay in the round due to thunderstorms but for the young Sunshine Tour professionals taking part, the silver lining to the dark clouds around Sun City was definitely the opportunity of just being around an icon of their sport.
"As a South African golfer we've been blessed to have so many great golfers come from this country, but it all started with Gary Player. He was really the one who pushed the envelope out there and played international golf, and made it possible for us to also go overseas and achieve our dreams in other countries. I think I speak on behalf of all of us professionals when we say thank you for what Gary Player has done for us and our Tour. Without him we wouldn’t be where we are now and wouldn’t be playing for the kind of money we are on Tour," said Robin Williams, who has already won in his rookie season on the Sunshine Tour.
It was a message echoed by Gerhard Pepler, also a rookie on the Sunshine Tour and who won the Gary & Vivienne Player Challenge to qualify for this weekend’s tournament.
"I think any South African golfer will tell you that Gary Player kind of started professional golf in South Africa for us. Without his support we wouldn't be here today, and he keeps doing so much for even the new generation of golfers. His energy is incredible. I've heard him referred to as the youngest 88 year old out there, and having seen it first-hand this weekend I now believe it too," he said.
The more experienced Christiaan Basson spoke of how Player inspired him with his different approach to golf.
"Growing up he was always one of the golfers I looked up to. His work ethic was always an inspiration. But he also did things differently to the other golfers. He was a trendsetter and wasn’t scared to try new things and lead the way in a lot of areas of the game, including fitness. He pioneered the golf fitness we see today. He’s just always been somebody to look up to," he said.
Young Sunshine Tour professional Jovan Rebula first played with Gary Player when he was six years old. "Mr Player is an inspiration to us all as the greatest golfer South Africa has ever produced. We played a practice round on Friday before this tournament and then went to the driving range and he was there doing a clinic with some kids. He even gave us a quick lesson on the range. It's always special to get his insights into the game. He's always been good to us as South African golfers. He's been everything for the Sunshine Tour and we're all trying to live up to his legacy."
And Kyle Barker has been privileged to play with Gary Player this weekend. "Mr Player means a lot to me as a person and as a professional golfer. I wouldn’t be playing the game if it wasn't for him. I've learnt so much playing with him this weekend. He's got so many different shots around the greens, even using a four iron to hit chip and run shots. He's been chipping in, hitting driver of the deck, or hitting seven and eight woods to 20 feet from the hole. He's incredible to watch. He's got every shot. Without his input into the Sunshine Tour, it wouldn't be as strong as it is today.