Gary Player on Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and how to stay healthy at 80

Gary Player
Gary Player, pictured at the 2014 Masters, is still a regular figure at golf's majors

It is not often Gary Player is lost for an answer, but he struggles to recall sustaining a golf-related injury in a career that now spans 63 years.

He tells of various broken bones resulting from childhood rugby in his native South Africa, but golf never seemed to harm this 80-year-old winner of nine major championships.

And his vitality and longevity are well worth noting at a time when world number one Jason Day and Britain's Olympic golf medallist Justin Rose are both nursing back injuries.

Tiger Woods, meanwhile, is yet to return from his surgeries and Rory McIlroy is under constant scrutiny for his gym regime.

Health and fitness has never been a hotter topic in golf - and Player is convinced the emphasis on power in the modern game has contributed to the number of injuries. He also cites diet, rest and happiness as being vital to a golfer's well-being.

"I'm nearly 81 and travelling around the world with big time changes, doing business and working on my farm," Player told BBC Sport. "And it comes from eating correctly, exercising correctly and education - the greatest gift bestowed on anybody."

He is evangelical about how people, not just top golfers, should look after themselves. "They don't worry about what they eat and it is the most important thing in your life," he said.

"Your body is a temple and you have got to treat it as such."

The benefits of Player's regime are evident - he may be an octogenarian but he attacks life with extraordinary vigour.

We were talking at the Bears Club in Florida. He had just flown in from Cuba, and after our meeting would be on a plane to China. He is convinced no other human being has accumulated more air-miles.

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy's gym routine is "an example to future players", according to Player

And, as we made our way around the front nine, it was clear Player still strikes a mean golf ball. He was determined to out-drive partners 30 years his junior and his touch around the greens remains enviably deft.

After one majestic chip and run to tap-in range, I found myself asking: "Just how do you do that?"

"I tell you, it's just one word," he replied. "And that word is talent!"

And then he breaks into a hearty and self-deprecating laugh before taking the trouble to go through the ins and out of club selection, stance and the need to hit down on the ball.

More seriously, Player agrees today's top stars are more susceptible to injury because of the more forgiving clubs used in the modern game. They put a premium on club-head speed rather than precision ball-striking.

"That's a wonderful point," he said. "You can slash at it a lot more, you don't have to hit the sweet spot. Tiger Woods would take a slash at drives and it would be unnecessary.

"He hit the ball 330 yards anyway. If he caught the slash it went 340. What difference does it make?

"It makes a person hit harder, whereas in our time you hit hard but you had to be within yourself because if you didn't hit it in that sweet spot..."

Player doesn't complete the sentence but leaves no doubt those golfers failing to find contact with the crucial but tiny portion of a club face would send their ball into big trouble.

"If I gave Rory McIlroy the driver I hit in my day," he said. "I lay out the challenge to him, to let me see him hit six fairways. I don't think he would. I could be wrong but it would be a very interesting challenge."

And Player is a huge supporter of the four-time major winner from Northern Ireland, having no regard for critics who say McIlroy spends too much time in the gym.

Justin Rose with gold medal
Justin Rose won the men's gold medal as golf returned to the Olympics

He said: "Rory is highly intelligent, making sure he is tuning his muscles that stand up to the continuous travel, which I did, and then play and the hitting of balls in practice. And yet he is condemned.

"I am such a Rory fan and his working-out method is an example to future players coming into the game."

Player was also thrilled at golf's return to this summer's Olympics in Rio, where he was team leader for South Africa. He was particularly pleased golfers were regarded as athletes.

"That to me was absolutely my dream," he beamed. "And to go into the same gym where Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Usain Bolt, Novak Djokovic and all the 11,000 athletes were was amazing.

"Because when I started out I was known as a nut. 'You can't exercise like this and play golf,' they tried to tell me."

With that, Player readies himself for his next journey - wondering where he will find the beetroot he is convinced he will need to eat in China to help combat the effects of jetlag.

"You can take a Rolls Royce, and if you put in second-hand gasoline, it will go for a while but it won't go for long - not even a Rolls Royce," he smiled impishly.

Having comfortably out-driven his playing partners, Player had already left no doubt his engine continues to run with trademark energy and efficiency.