Gary Player'a first victory on the PGA Tour was in the 1958 Kentucky Derby Open. Today, in his native Johannesburg, Player hopes to win a different kind of Derby.
"Welcome Boy is the big, big favorite for our top race for 3 years olds, "South Africa's most famour athlete said today at the Heritage Golf Classic. "He's a tremendous stayer; can run forever. He's just won two of our very bigger handicaps . . . and this might be a hell of a statement, but if there's a better 3 year old in the world running a long distance I'd love to see him."
Player has 110 horses on his ranch near Capetown. Welcome Boy is his proudest product. He hopes, if all goes well, that the colt will be invited to participate over the 1 1/2 miles of the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel this November.
Welcome Boy has solid International connections.
"I bought a stallion fom England, named Welcomed, and Welcomed is by Worden II, who won the 1953 International, player noted. "Then I had this Sea Cottage mare. Sea Cottage was the greatest horse we ever had in South Africa, along with Hawaii, who came over here and became the turf champion.
"Well, I bred the Sea Cottage mare to the son of Worden and got Welcome Boy. He's won 115,000 bucks."
Several of player's mares were purchased in Ocala, Fla., from Elmer Heubeck, who manages Hobeau Farm for Jack Dreyfus. Hobeau also sold Player a stallion, Red Azalea, a son of Intentionally.
"I'm crazy about horses. They're what I'm going to do when I retire," the 41 year old golfer declared. "Course, I have to keep wining money on the tour to break even, what with all the horses and my six kids. But the purses back home are excellent. If Welcome Boy wins Saturday, then wins our biggest race the Durban July, he'll be over $200,000 and what I'd like to do is to arange to send him over here and, hopefully, get Allen Jerkens to train him."
Jerkens cuurently is conditioning Sensitive Prince, an outstanding 3 year old Being pointed for the Kentucky Derby. Player says he never considered sending Welcome Boy to the United States for the Tripple Crown events.
"Our birthday for horses is different than yours," he observed. "Welcome Boy became 3 years old on August 1st. The 3-year-olds here turn on January 1st. I wouldn't send Welcombe Boy here until after the Durban July, that's the race that's such a big thing back home."
Between now and then Player intends to make news away from the race course, on the golf course. He is sharpening his gsame for the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga, April 69 , an event be won in 1961 and 1974.
"It's coming along okay," Player said. "I hadn't played in three months before I got to Sawgrass last week for the Tournament Players Championship, and it showed. One reason for the long layoff was the horses. They take a lot of my time.
"Like the breeding. We take the Varola theories - he helped Tesio - and combine them with American blood horses and what we call an AEI system, and it's been highly successful."
Averaging approximately $100,000 a year from golf tournaments since 1969 indoubtedly has helped player upgrade the quality of the stock on his Capetown ranch. The veteran's career earnings exceed $1,300,000.He was the sixth to reach the million dollar plateau, or green.
"What I'd like to do, when I retire, is to go home to my ranch and work and have American boys, black and white, come down to South Africa with me," he said. "I'd like to bring in boys from Japan, from England, from Australia too, from all over the world, to work on my ranch where I could teach them golf and animal husbandry. I'd like to put something back into what I've enjoyed, concentrating on the youth."
That's welcome boys in the future, Welcome Boys today. Player says his horse is a stayer. Which is exactly what he has been to professional golf for more than two decades.