Gary Player on adapting his swing to the conditions

THE ability to adapt himself to changing circumstances is one of the most important skills any golfer can have.

I have realized this fact for a number of years, but it was never brought home to me so graphically as in the 1962 Professional Golfers’ Association championship on the Aroni-mink course in Newton Square, Pennsylvania. In the Western Open a few weeks before the PGA tournament, I had experimented with using a 4-wood off the tee on certain holes.

Previously, on the pro tour, I had very seldom replaced a driver with a 4-wood, believing that the fifteen yards difference in distance was too much to give up. But Aronimink is one of those courses where there is a tremendous premium on accuracy. The rough is thick and there are numerous trees and traps lining the fairways. And anyone knows that a straight ball is the hardest shot to hit in golf.

I figured that I could use the 4-wood to reach the green with my second shot, while the other fellows were hitting irons. If you’re playing well, there’s no reason you can’t do this.


I don’t mean to say that I’m not always striving for length. But many players forget that it is often more important to keep the ball in play. Chick Harbert says that every golfer must have one bread-and-butter shot, something that he can fall back on when nothing else will work.

I guess that my 4-wood falls into that category for me, although this may be only a phase. In another year it could be something entirely different. But in the PGA I used the 4-wood off the tee on 21 of the 72 holes. I made another alteration in my game at Aronimink.

A day or two before the tournament, I was watching Bill Casper practice on the putting green, paying particular attention to the way he broke his wrists.

I noticed he was employing a firmer stroke than me-a jab, with a short follow through. I had previously made a move in that direction, but my putting was still not going well, so I decided to adapt my style more closely to Casper’s. Putting is extremely important to the game of golf, and this fact is realized by the top pros.

I think the main difference between the tournament scores of today and 20 or 30 years ago is that the pros spend ever so much more time practicing on the greens. Anyway, the changes I made worked, and I was fortunate enough to win the PGA with a score of 278, although Bob Goalby made me sweat by coming close to a tie on the 72nd hole. I felt very lucky that, by the age of 26, I had won the Masters, the British Open and the PGA.

I would like to close with a story about a young man back in Johannesburg. We had an African shop boy at the Killarney Country Club named William. He couldn’t read or write when we hired him, but he was teaching himself how to read by poring over every golf book or magazine that came into the shop. Often I found him before a mirror practicing the strokes he had learned. He knew the records of almost every golfer in the world, much as a youngster in America can reel off the batting averages of all the baseball players.

Bobby Locke and I were scheduled to play a three-day, head-to-head challenge match. He had never been beaten in South Africa in this kind of match, and I was quite nervous. I asked William if he thought I’d beat Locke. “No,” he said, “you can never do that. You will be too frightened with such a great player.” “But I’m putting very well,” I said. “Especially the short putts.” “You’re putting very badly.

Bobby Locke will kill you on the greens. He is a wiz-ard with that putter. You are too young and you will be too scared.” The morning of the match I called the shop to see if anyone wanted a lesson. When William answered the phone, I thought I’d pull his leg.

He said, “This is William, the shop boy.” I disguised my voice and introduced myself as Bobby Locke. “Good morning, Mr. Locke.” “How’s Gary Player playing these days?” “Oh, very, very well,” said William. “How is he putting?” “He’s putting like a wiz- ard,” William said, using the same inflection in his voice as he had with me. “Thank you very much,” I said, changing my voice.

Craig’s take:

This is a perfect example of a hall-of-fame golfers explaining how he went with the conditions of the day and his swing in order to adjust to win. Don’t take this too literally for everyone because sometimes, it’s best to just play your game and work on being consistent with what you do best no matter the conditions. An example of this is Bruce Lietzke who almost always hit a fade even on dog leg left shots.

Gary Player’s stories here illustrate that golf is such an individual sport and that there is no perfect way to swing or play the game. You want to play it your way and commit to that. If you have the ability to adapt like a great player, then by all means, do it.

This is an excerpt from the book “Gary Player Golf Secrets” in the Online Classics Golf Library, an ever-expanding collection of golf books. Membership and lifetime access to the OCG library can be yours with your purchase of

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June 28, 2010 in Misc