Well, of all the headlines I never thought I’d have to write, that has to be pretty much near the top of the list. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Gary Player, the 77-year-old golf legend, will be pictured in the buff for ESPN The Magazine’s annual “body issue” in July.
The South African native is the winner of 24 tournaments on the PGA Tour between 1958 and 1978, along with dozens of other championships on the European and Champions Tours. He is a winner of the career Grand Slam, with three Open Championship wins (1959, 1968, 1974), three Masters (1961, 1974, 1978), two PGA Championships (1962, 1972) and the 1965 U.S. Open on his resume. Along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, he’s also one of the honorary starters at Augusta National every year for the Masters.
I’m not going to pass any judgment on Player, or ESPN for that matter. I readily admit that Player always appears to keep himself in great shape, even though he hasn’t played truly competitive golf for over 15 years. Player takes great pride in his health and fitness and even holds the record as the oldest player to make the cut at the Masters, accomplishing the feat in 1998 at the age of 62. See you in 48 years, Tianlang Guan.
ESPN comes under a lot of heat for this issue every year, but I think that their use of athletes of a variety of ages, genders and sports shows that it’s at least a little bit more than just a show of skin for hype and cash. In 2010, they actually featured wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer on one of their covers. If we are to look at sports in their purest form and honor the physical greatness that can be achieved, using Player seems as reasonable as anything.
Player won’t be the only golfer pictured in the magazine. He’ll be joined by Ladies European Tour player Carly Booth, who at 20 years old, was born a little over a year before one of Player’s last wins – on the Champions Tour.
Others in the issue will be Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, Olympic volleyball superstar Kerri Walsh-Jennings, and Giancarlo Stanton, at least for now of the Miami Marlins.