Gary Player would love to have Rory McIlroy’s $250 million problem

Phil Inglis

Fitness guru and golf icon Gary Player says he could play golf with a broomstick -- and no, he’s not referring to Adam Scott’s long putter.

Gary Player never had to deal with a predicament like the one challenging Rory McIlroy. After missing the cut in his first tournament of the season, and fresh off his glitzy "Hello, world" introduction as the newest -- and probably richest -- Nike Golf athlete, McIlroy refused to blame his gear.

"It's the first week out, I wouldn't look too much into that [the change of equipment," McIlroy told Sky Sports after posting two rounds of 75 with all Nike equipment but for a desperation move back to his Titleist Scotty Cameron putter on Friday. "If anything, it's more the Indian than the arrow at this point."

Owning up to his own faulty play was nothing less than the winner of nine major champions expected of the "wonderful young man," as Player termed the world No. 1.

"When everybody doesn’t do well, they either blame the manager, the coach, or the equipment," Player told us by phone Friday afternoon, hours after McIlroy and Tiger Woods bombed out of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. "I’m not saying Rory [does that]...he just didn’t play well enough."

Player, making the media rounds to promote this week’s Humana Challenge -- a tourney he believes to be "the single-most important event" on the PGA Tour because of its emphasis on health and "saving lives" -- chuckled when the topic of whether his notorious equipment change placed McIlroy in a pickle going forward.

"What a wonderful problem, $250 million in the bank," Player quipped. "I’d play with a broomstick for that." (To be clear, Player most definitely did not mean he would shove a long putter into his chest, a la Adam Scott; the winner of a career Grand Slam -- one of only five golfers with such an achievement -- is on record as a vociferous opponent of "nose" putters.)

Player, who was a fitness buff long before Woods made it fashionable for professional golfers to hit the gym, has represented at least eight equipment companies over his 60-year career as a linksman. Now pitching for Callaway, the 77-year-old South African who regularly scores six shots under his age, thanks to a workout regimen that includes 1,000 sit-ups per day, recalled a time long before golfers became techno-geeks about their clubs.

"Those weren’t the days when you had all this great equipment," said the golf icon. "We had junk."

Player marveled at the mechanization of the equipment industry.

"[At the Callaway factory], they can make you fade it, draw it, high, low, a ball with extra spin, grooves, this that," Player said. "If you can’t use, it’s your fault, nothing to do with [the manufacturers].

"And to be paid $250 million," he said, "man, baby, I want to tell you, that’s the dream."

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