Gary Player won nine majors during his storied golf career. But the 80-year-old South African “would have given anything to have a gold medal,” because he sees the Olympics as “the biggest sporting event in the world.”
Player spoke with the Golf Channel on Wednesday ahead of this week’s British Open, and didn’t hold back when asked about his thoughts on so many pros pulling out of the Rio Olympics.
“I’m bitterly disappointed,” he said. “In America today, their plus-minus combined with car accidents and guns, 100,000 people killed a year, and you’re going to go and play in a golf tournament where Zika is the great word. I think there’s a greater chance of that happening to you in America than getting Zika. I was just in Zambia, where you have Malaria, and it didn’t concern me at all. I’m really amazed.”
Player will serve as the captain of the South African men’s golf team in Rio. It’s a team that won’t have the country’s three best players, as Branden Grace, Louis Oostuizen, and Charl Schwartzel all opted out of competing.
Instead, South Africa will be represented by world No. 67 Jaco Van Zyl and No. 92 Brandon Stone. And Van Zyl is putting more emphasis on the Olympics than he is on two golf majors. He’s skipping the British Open and PGA Championship to prepare for Rio.
“I spoke to Jaco on the phone the other day,” Player said. “I admired [his decision] very much indeed. And although our three best players have withdrawn, I’m going to be very positive about us doing well.”
Player also stated that he thinks Olympic golf should involve amateurs and not professionals. Golf will next appear in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but its future in the Games is unclear after that.
“I just hope that [the withdrawals don’t] hurt golf. I hope we stay in the Olympics,” Player said.
MORE: Rory McIlroy will probably watch Olympics, but maybe not golf