The nine-time major champion, one of golf ’s true legends, talks flying, fitness and Kau Sai Chau You famously slept on the beach at St Andrews on your first Open Championship appearance in 1955 because you didn’t have enough money for a hotel room. How much of that experience do you remember? All of it, and I’ve been back to the spot too. I got off the train with about £200, which was my total life assets, and couldn’t get a room at the hotel for less than around £40, so I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money. I put on a sweater and my waterproofs and I slept in the sand. I slept well; it was a very positive experience. The next night I managed to find a hotel room for a lot less money, so I went there. But years later, when I was back in St Andrews, I went down and found the dune where I slept. They’re very good memories. You’re reportedly one of the most travelled individuals of all time and commute from your homes in South Africa and America to all corners of the world. Have you worked out far you’ve flown in your career? It’s true, I fly even more than airline pilots because they’re required to take a rest after each flight! I really love flying. I’m nearing 25 million kilometers, approximately. Presumably flying has become easier over the years ... Absolutely. In the old days, when I was playing, I travelled all over the world to compete. Flying for 40-plus hours from South Africa to the United States, stopping at places along the way, was a regular trip. And that was in the old Constellations, with my kids! Now it’s barely 16 hours – and it’s nonstop – but the seats are so much better. You have a seat that turns into a flat bed. Those would have been very useful during my career. These days, of course, the likes of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els get to tournaments on their Gulfstream jets. Plenty has changed. Having said that, while it’s certainly easier to travel these days, to hole a 15-foot putt to win a major is because of you, not because of the private jet.
You’ve achieved so much in the game but is there a single event that stands out for you? It’s difficult to choose just one. Obviously the nine major wins were very special, as was the time when I completed the Grand Slam on the Champions Tour. That, for me, was a great accomplishment. To get them both is something I’m very proud of. 70
HK Golfer・MAY 2012
Aside from your playing career, you’re known in Hong Kong as the man who designed the North and South courses at the Jockey Club Kau Sai Chau. Where does that particular project rank among the many hundreds that you’ve been involved in? Very high. I’m very proud to have designed 36 holes at Kau Sai Chau. When I finished with it, I felt so gratified, like I really contributed to society knowing that it was something not only for the rich. It was something for everybody. You could have perhaps left a bit more room on the 14th of the North Course, the par-three with the peninsula green ... [Laughs] You like that one, yeah? Good, strong hole. Beautiful. Causes plenty of heartache, I’m sure. Who has had the most influence on your life? Many people influenced the way I approached my career and my life, but my family were the most significant. I have always admired the following five people: Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Mother Theresa and the Dali Lama. As someone who has been extolling the virtues of fitness in golf you must be delighted to see the way the modern professional player has taken to the gym? Absolutely. My playing success was largely down to my diet, my health and my fitness. You asked me about flying before – well, when I’m not sleeping on planes I do push-ups and sit-ups, often to the surprise of my fellow passengers! But in all honestly, taking your health seriously is crucial. Staying in good physical shape is of paramount importance. The Chinese have a great diet ... my hope is that they don’t ignore it and take up Western-style food. Finally, what do you most want to be remembered for? For being a good father, a good husband and a good grandfather. For giving back to those in need. – As told to Alex Jenkins