Around the World in 80 Years: Gary Player the trailblazer
Last Updated: 07/04/19 9:25pm
In the first of our five-part look at the international impact on the Masters, we look at the original pioneer Gary Player, the South African who blazed a trail for all who followed from across the world.
Started by amateur champion Bobby Jones and investment banker Clifford Roberts, the Masters - known initially as the Augusta National Invitational - was first played in 1934.
In the tournament's early years, it wasn't cheap or simple to get to Augusta and therefore only a handful of international players competed in the first nine events.
Inevitable American dominance followed, but when Gene Sarazen hit "the shot heard 'round the world" in 1935 - holing out from 235 yards for a double-eagle at the 15th - it was perhaps the first indication of the tournament's global reach.
International participation subsequently began in earnest after the Second World War and increased dramatically in the 1950s and foreign-born players have outnumbered Americans in the field since 2006.
But there is one player who blazed the trail for the rest to follow. One player who was the only non-American to win the Masters between 1934 and 1979. Gary Player.
Player's father was a gold miner in South Africa and he wrote to Roberts to ask how his son could earn an international invitation to play the Masters, to which Roberts' reply was "go ahead and pass the hat around your club".
Player's debut at Augusta came in 1957 as a 21-year-old and he claimed his first Green Jacket four years later with a one-shot win over Arnold Palmer and amateur Charles Coe to become the first international winner of the tournament.
In doing so, Player also thwarted Palmer's bid to become the first repeat champion in tournament history,
Four consecutive top-five finishes followed before finally winning it again in 1974 - finishing two strokes clear of Dave Stockton and Tom Weiskopf having missed the previous year because of leg and abdominal surgery.
His final win at Augusta in 1978 was his most dramatic, coming from seven shots back with a seven-under 64 to set the clubhouse lead and then having to wait 40 minutes to confirm his one-shot win and ninth and final major championship.
"It was agony, sheer agony," he said of his one-stroke victory.
Player's final-round 64 matched the course record and also made him the oldest winner at age 42.
Although both of those records have been eclipsed, Player's status in Masters history is secure. He holds the record for most starts (52) and has joined fellow Big Three members Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as honorary starters.
He made his last appearance in 2009, appropriately between two more South African winners - Trevor Immelman in 2008 and Charl Schwartzel in 2011.