Hall of Fame golfer Gary Player, who also has bred and raced Thoroughbreds for about 50 years, covered a lot of ground during his keynote address at the inaugural Thoroughbred Owner Conference at Keeneland Oct. 13-16.
Player, a remarkably accomplished person, has traveled more than 15 million miles pursuing with dogged determination and drive a career in professional golf that is recognized as one of the greatest of the 20th century. Just to get some perspective on how many miles he’s logged, Player has averaged 245,902 miles of travel per year during his 61 years as a pro (he’s still playing) or the equivalent of circling the globe 10 times annually.
He’s lived through some tumultuous times—his mother died of breast cancer when he was 8, his brother Ian went to fight alongside the Americans and British during World War II, and he witnessed the painful process South Africa went through as it tore down the barriers of apartheid and rebuilt itself. Though Player’s family didn’t support apartheid, he was often vilified and taunted at tournaments because he was a white South African man.
Despite the challenges and adversity, Player found a way to press on and won 165 tournaments worldwide. He is the only player to win the Grand Slam on the PGA Tour and on the Senior or Champions Tour.
Members of the Thoroughbred racing community face their own challenges, from broader industry-related issues such as medication and the ripple effects of a reduced foal crop to the more day-to-day issues of growing a business and attracting more clients.
In his speech Player presented his 10 Rules of Life, which he said guide the different companies he has formed to breed Thoroughbreds, design golf courses, manage real estate, or contribute to humanitarian causes. Considering he has seen more of the world than 99.9% of us, it seems valuable to share them and some of Player’s commentary.
1. Change is the price of survival.
2. Everything in business is negotiable, except quality. “Set up a partnership or form a syndicate, but be sure you buy quality,” Player said.
3. A promise made is a debt incurred. “We heard it from (Hall of Fame) jockey Chris McCarron (regarding managing the relationships with owners and trainers): If you give your word, you must honor it.”
4. For all we take in life—and we take a lot—we must pay.
5. Persistence and common sense are more important than talent and intelligence. “Talent is only one part. Some athletes have tremendous ability. There was a particular golfer who was better than Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and myself. But he was scared to win; he didn’t have the passion. There are horses that are scared to win. The colt might work great, but when he competes, he is scared. The mind and will to win have to be there.”
6. Work. “The fox fears not the man who boasts at night in the bar, but the man who rises early in the morning.”
7. Accept the advice of people (parents) who love you even though you don’t like the advice. “I used to give one of my sons lessons, and he told me I was old-fashioned. He went to Jack Nicklaus, who told him the same thing, and it was fine.”
8. Trust instinct to the end. “Instinct is a special gift. It teaches you to ‘choose the right.’ We all have temptations and we all succumb to things, but you can teach yourself to choose the right.”
9. “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.”—Winston Churchill (quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). “Being small (Player is 5’ 7”) and competing against players around the world and beating them in their own backyard, I had to be more fit and go the extra yard.”
10. There is no substitute for personal contact. “When a horse wins, then call your client or send them a note and let them know ‘Well done.’ These days it is simple; send an e-mail, though a handwritten note is best.”
For Player, the single-most important attribute for success is attitude.
“The remarkable thing is that we have the choice every day to choose the attitude we will embrace for that entire day,” he said. “We cannot change the past. We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one strength we have—our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”