Player's aim: win in each of 6 decades

Return to Pennsylvania emotional for Palmer

Senior Open notebook

June 29, 2000|By Sam Borden | Sam Borden,SUN STAFF

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - On the driving range, stories are a dime a dozen. Players will perpetually pause from their practice to spin a yarn to a caddie or a tournament volunteer, then return to their preparation.

One man, however, always draws an audience.

Gary Player is known for so many things - his prolific record, his all-black attire and his dry wit - and all of them are magnetic when he steps back from his bag and offers a tale.

It doesn't matter if the entire joke was heard, because by the time Player hits the punch line - "But I don't want the six mother-in-laws! One of those is enough!" - everyone is laughing anyway.

"The camaraderie on the Senior Tour, well, there's just nothing like it," said Player, who has won an estimated 162 tournaments around the world during his 47-year professional career, including all four majors on the PGA Tour. "I love golf, I love people and I'm very grateful for all I've been able to do."

But just because he addresses nearly everyone he comes into contact with as "friend," doesn't mean that Player doesn't have a competitive desire anymore. Although he has struggled this year (he hasn't finished in the top 10 of an event all season), the man who won nine majors on the PGA Tour is working hard before this week's U.S. Senior Open, trying to figure out what's missing from his game.

"Do this to an average 64-year old and they'd die," he joked to his caddie while beating balls on the Saucon Valley Country Club range Tuesday. "They'd have a heart attack or their body would break or something."

Player hasn't broken just yet, though he does have to stretch out his back extensively after each practice session, getting on the ground and pulling his knees up to his chest while rocking backward. But if he can stay healthy and somehow pull one more victory out of his bag of tricks, Player is poised to set a record that he is confident might never be broken: winning a tournament in six decades.

"That is a big dream of mine," he said. "That would be everything to me."

Emotional week for Palmer

It is an emotional return to Pennsylvania this week for Arnold Palmer, as The King is honorary chairman of the Senior Open. Sadly, he was supposed to be a co-chair with his wife, Winnie, who succumbed to ovarian cancer last November.

"My expectations are that I would win the tournament," said Palmer, who last wonin 1988. "[But] lightning may have to strike somewhere around here in order for it to happen. But when I really feel that there is absolutely no chance, then I will not appear."

Alternate takes

Lanny Wadkins, Gibby Gilbert and Orville Moody have all withdrawn from the championship because of injury. They are replaced by Alan Tapie, Richard McArdle and Paul Davies.

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