When I heard that Gary Player was going to pose naked for ESPN The Magazine’s annual Body Issue, the first thing that came to mind was those cardboard boxes with pinholes the smart kids made in third grade so they could safely view a solar eclipse.
Gary Player is 77 years old. He won nine majors when 3-woods were crafted from fine persimmon, and 7-irons had hickory shafts.
The magazine hits newsstands Friday, 52 years since Gary Player first won the Masters, beating Charles Coe and Arnold Palmer in 1961. I don’t know who is going to be on the cover. I think they do like six covers, depending on where you live.
But if you sidle over to the magazine rack while waiting on a prescription at Albertsons, and somebody has tried to hide ESPN The Magazine behind Popular Mechanics and Better Homes and Gardens, chances are we in Nevada drew the short straw. And that means Kerri Walsh Jennings, the 6-foot-2-inch beach volleyball star, will not be appearing on our cover, though she married a guy from Clark High School.
The good thing about ESPN The Magazine is that nobody I know subscribes to it. So you can’t fake moral indignation, like when Kate Upton poses in a postage stamp for the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and cancel your subscription.
When I spoke to UNLV golf coach Dwaine Knight, he had not seen these pictures of Gary Player.
Knight said if anybody from the Senior Tour, or beyond, was going to pose without his wood covers, he knew it would be Player and not, say, Craig Stadler.
Gary Player’s nickname is “Mr. Fitness.” Craig Stadler’s nickname is “The Walrus.” He’s sitting on a cornflake, waiting for the van to come. Goo, goo, goo joob.
“Of anybody who has ever played the game, he has kept himself in the best shape,” Knight said of Player’s obsession with physical fitness.
I read somewhere that Gary Player still does 1,000 situps every day, whereas golfers such as John Daly only do 12-ounce curls. Though it should be said that once Daly gets going, he can do a lot of 12-ounce curls.
“He’s probably the first one who really took it serious,” Knight said of Player, who used to be known for wearing all-black clothing when he played golf. “On the long trips from South Africa (where Player is from) to the United States, he learned how to stretch on airplanes. Then he took it to the next level.”
And now he’s taken it to this level, which is way beyond the Vikki LaMotta level, or even the Nancy Sinatra level. Those two were 51 and 54, respectively, when they posed for Playboy. The men who wear black socks with sandals and eat dinner at 4 p.m. at Furr’s Cafeteria said “hubba, hubba.”
When I asked Knight what was the least amount of clothing he’s ever been photographed in, he said he hoped it was Bermuda shorts and a golf shirt with the UNLV logo.
He also said he hoped Gary Player was posing with a scorecard or a Bushwood Country Club towel covering his feet, because last summer the coach had melanoma cut out of his foot, and it was more painful than a triple-bogey on No. 16. Scary, too.
I told him I had seen the photos, because when somebody sends an email that says “Gary Player Naked!” it’s like when trains crash in the Himalayas. You almost have to look.
Years ago, I had a poster of Jan Stephenson, who was Natalie Gulbis in the 1970s, or way, way before Natalie got herself engaged to this quarterback from Yale. It shows a winsome Jan taking a bubble bath. Only the bubbles are Maxfli golf balls. It was my favorite poster, until the one of Farrah Fawcett in the red bathing suit came out.
A few years ago, when she still was playing, I told Jan Stephenson about that, only I left out the part about taking down her poster when Farrah Fawcett’s came out. She blushed and said I was sweet.
On the other hand, should I ever meet Gary Player, I probably won’t mention that I have seen him naked. If I do, I will ask for a mulligan.
In one of the photos, the old golfer is shown in, um, full backswing. I only hope this wasn’t the Quad Cities Open, because people in Iowa and the part of Illinois where tractors are driven aren’t used to seeing other people walking the back nine in their birthday suits.
As they say in Moline, don’t look, Ethel!
In the other picture, Player is shown striking a Charles Atlas pose while lifting a giant golf ball above his head.
Dwaine Knight was right. Gary Player has taken physical fitness to the next level. He is in amazing shape for a man of 77.
His arms also are quite hairy.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.