ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Gary Player is fairly overflowing with energy and enthusiasm. It must be the endorphins talking, for it is only 7 a.m., and he already has worked out and had breakfast here at World Golf Village.
"I did 800 sit-ups with 50 pounds on my chest," Player says, with gusto. "I lifted 505 pounds with my legs."
That's not a bad feat for a strapping college student, but Player is 5-foot-7, 150 pounds -- oh, and 65 years old. The South African golfer is the poster boy for today's globe-hopping athlete. He says he has recorded more than 12 million air miles and is believed to be the most well-traveled athlete in the history of sports.
"More than any athlete?" Player said with mock distress. "How about more than any man that ever lived? Athletes ... it's no debate. I've done this for nearly 50 years, since turning pro in 1953."
His accountants calculate that he has spent more than four years of his life sitting in an airplane.
"Am I proud?" he asked later, as he settled into his seat on a friend's Falcon 900 jet. "No, I'd rather be riding on my ranch. The thing is, in my business, there's no substitute for personal contact. I really like playing golf and I do like an awful lot seeing the world, meeting people. It's a great education."
The Gary Player Group is an umbrella corporation that does everything from offering investment advice to building golf courses to selling equipment. Player plays 24 tournaments a year and does between 25 and 30 corporate outings. He also checks in frequently on the 20 golf courses he's currently designing in such far flung locales as Turkey, Poland, India, Greece, Beijing and the Philippines.
He is, to say the least, driven.
"As a young man, I always said I wanted to accumulate the best golf record in the world," he said. "And I think if you take the world, I think my record is the best."
Player has won 163 international golf titles, unofficially the most ever, and has visited 96 countries in the process.
Player said he feels sympathy for Payne Stewart and his family but blamed the crash on "negligence." He has not soured on flying in the least.
|By popular demand, Gary Player, one of five men to have a career Grand Slam, travels around the world -- 16 times every year.|
"If you see a friend die of a heart attack, are you scared of eating?" Player asked. "The biggest thing that kills people is food ... obesity. Air travel ... absolutely, it's a miracle.
"I was a commentator for Shell's World of Golf Monday and Tuesday in Mexico. I took a jet two and one-half hours to L.A., then the red-eye special to West Palm Beach. I had breakfast at home the Wednesday morning -- all in one day. London, the other day, I took the Concorde at 9 a.m. and arrived here at 8 a.m. -- I arrived before I left."
That would be typical Player, a Delta platinum member, who regularly clears the 100,000-mile mark each year. All told, he annually flies more than 250,000 miles. This year's total will come closer to 400,000 -- and, for the most part, he carries his own bags.
Player tried his own jet for two years in the mid-'90s, but the expense of the spare parts and multiple pilots turned him back to commercial carriers. He raves about South African Air and Germany's Luftansa. Today's efficient airlines, he said, make the process much more bearable.
"In 1956, it took 40 hours to get to the States from South Africa," he said. "There were six stops. I had six children and 33 pieces of baggage. I had to win the tournament just to break even. Now, South Africa to Miami is 14 hours non-stop.
"The funny thing is I've increased [mileage]. I've got 11 grandchildren, here and in South Africa. You just want to see them all. So you just zip back there, zip back here."
Player still has one more important goal ahead of him: He wants to retire as the most well-traveled human in the history of civilization.
"I certainly contemplate on designing golf courses and being involved in the golf business, God willing, for another 20 years," Player said. "There's no way anybody could spend that amount of time traveling in their lives."
Greg Garber is a senior staff writer for ESPN.com.
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||More than any athlete? How about more than any man that ever lived? Athletes ... it's no debate. I've done this for nearly 50 years, since turning pro in 1953. ”
||— Gary Player on racking up some 12 million miles on his many travels as a professional golfer
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