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 By Lewine Mair

Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam, two of the world’s greatest golfers, share their thoughts and offer an interesting insight into the modern game.

Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam made for the perfect hosts as Rolex ambassadors, at a breakfast during the Evian, the final major of 2017. Some of their views on modern golf were much the same, others were at odds - and never more so than on the question of golfers turning professional at an ever younger age. First, though, the breakfast itself.

While guests tucked into their cappuccinos and croissants, Player, the man who is on record as having said that a bacon roll before a round of golf can add a couple of shots to your score, was sipping from a glass of fresh orange juice after eating an avocado.

For Sorenstam, it was a muffin and sparkling water.

Sorenstam has never been over-enthusiastic about those fourteen and fifteen-year-olds who have been fast-forwarded towards the professional area. This ten-time major winner is more likely to issue a salutary reminder along the lines, “There are no prizes for being the youngest…”

Player’s view on talented teens, on the other hand, turned right round in 2012. That was the year when the then 14-year-old Guan Tianlang won the Asian Pacific Amateur championship and thereby qualified for a place in the 2013 Masters at Augusta. The first thing he did was to revisit the morning that his wife, Vivienne, had looked up from her daily paper and said, “There’s a 14-year-old playing in the Masters?”

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So disinclined was Gary to believe what she was saying that he rang Augusta that same day. “If it were my son,” Player told the voice on the other end, “I wouldn’t let him play. I don’t think it’s fair to ask a boy of that age to compete among the top players of the moment.

“Yet what happened? He made the cut both that week and in New Orleans. What that boy did was more significant than anything that might happen in an Olympic context.”

At that point, there were those at the breakfast who asked Player to expand on his reasons for wanting to pull a child out of what is arguably the most famous of the majors. Was it all down to the fierceness of the opposition or was he also thinking about how such an opportunity might spell the end of the boy’s childhood and/or his education. He shook his head at all of that.

“My one real concern,” he repeated, “was that he would have been so far out of his depth that it could have an adverse effect on his golf for ever more. I was truly astonished when he performed at the level he did.”

The mere mention of England’s Georgia Hall had both hosts pricking up their ears. Annika had barely known who Georgia was when she came on the radar ahead of the ’17 Solheim Cup.

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Then she started to keep tabs on the player’s progress and struggled to believe what she was seeing. “My first thought was, ‘Who is this young lady?’ Following on from there, the more I saw of her, the more I loved the way she played. She’s very strong, very mature, very confident. As for her swing, it’s fantastic. She’ll be in the top 20 among the LPGA players in no time.”

Gary had this to add: “Georgia came to play in my Gary Player Invitational on the day after the Open and I arranged to play in her group. My goodness, what a golf swing. As I watched, I started to ask myself a series of follow-on questions. Did she have the right mind? Did she have the passion? How good was she from 100 yards in?

“She looked to have the lot. The only thing I was left to ponder was whether or not she had ‘IT’ - ‘it’ being that indefinable something which no-one really understands but which can make all the difference between a good player and a great player. We’ll have to wait and see, but so far so good. I think she’s terrific.”

As to how Gary and Annika felt on the subject of the LET tour, whose troubles were being much publicised a couple of months back, both were relieved to hear of the offers of help from the men’s European Tour, the LPGA and the R&A. How surprised the two of them must have been when, more recently, the LET came up with a ‘Thanks but no thanks!” of an answer to those potential helpers.

To recap, the women decided that the number of potential sponsors who had got in touch when they heard of the women’s woes had led them to believe that they could have a full schedule up and running in 2018 on their own. (It is worth mentioning, here, that Mark Lichtenhein, the LET’s Chairman, did say that there was to be another meeting in the spring, by which time it would be apparent as to whether or not they could indeed make things work.)

Gary’s view, before he knew of this latest development, was that all the different bodies should have been offering to help: “Golf’s a team game, after all.” Annika’s view, meantime, was that all the Continental Federations should be going out of their way to put on tournaments.

“You can’t,” she said, “make a living on the LET as it is at the moment.”

Fast-forward to a Rolex breakfast at the 2018 Evian and it will be fascinating to hear Gary’s and Annika’s comments on what happened next.

The above is an extract from the latest issue of Women & Golf magazine, on sale today. Never miss an issue click here to subscribe and enjoy W&G delivered to your door.


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