Rewind seven or eight years to a time when Rory had hair sticking out everywhere and a little puppy fat around his middle. He was struggling with a back complaint.
‘You need to get fit Rory, look at that weight you’re carrying,’ roared Player, pinching McIlroy’s small roll of belly fat. ‘You need to strengthen your core.’
Player, who’s almost as well known these days for his dedication to fitness as his nine major wins, then invited McIlroy to punch him in the stomach. As you can imagine — for who wants to punch a legend in his 70s? — Rory’s first couple of blows were tentative.
He became wide-eyed when he tried one a little harder. ‘It’s like hitting a rock,’ he said. ‘You’re right. I do need to get fitter.’
Player shared the anecdote over dinner on Monday evening at the home in Augusta he is renting.
Dressed in black trousers, black polo neck and a black blazer — why change the habit of a lifetime? — he was in splendid form. Over a main course of wide-mouth sea bass, he made it clear how proud he was that McIlroy has gone from podgy teenager to impressive athletic specimen.
‘He has the best swing in the game and that commitment to fitness will prolong his time as one of the best players,’ said the great man.
Player, 80, believes this is the week McIlroy will join him to make it six players to complete the career Grand Slam.
‘It’s only a hunch but I do think the time is right,’ he said. ‘He had his big disappointment here in 2011 and became hungry to win. He showed last year he now knows how to tackle the par fives.
‘I love his new putting stroke, and you need to putt well to win the green jacket. I wasn’t a big fan of his previous stroke and the forward press that started it, but now it all flows beautifully.
‘I like the fact the spotlight is on Jordan Spieth and Jason Day because that can only help. Rory’s under enough pressure as it is trying to complete the career Slam.’
Player had to deal with the same pressure himself in 1965, when he completed the prodigious feat at the US Open. ‘I took up tai chi in the build-up,’ he said.
Player then stood and got in the squat position to re-enact his ritual, where he’d slap himself on the left side of the face and, looking in the mirror, say: ‘You will win the US Open.’
Then he’d slap himself on the right side of his face and cry: ‘You will complete the Slam.’
Now we have a new Big Three. Who’s going to win the most majors between Rory, Jason and Jordan?
‘I’ll go with Rory, if only because he’s got a handy lead already, with four to Jason’s one and the two Jordan has,’ said Player. ‘What I like is they’re not just great players but nice people as well, with impeccable manners. That’s important to me.’
Will they get close to matching the feats of the original Big Three, who will reunite on the first tee this morning (Arnold Palmer’s health willing) where Player and Jack Nicklaus will hit their ceremonial tee shots?
Player laughs out loud. ‘Are you kidding? Between us we won 34 majors and more than 50 counting the seniors. We won over 350 tournaments worldwide.
‘I don’t think there will ever be another three golfers like Jack, Arnold and me. We were the most competitive people you could ever wish to meet but we became friends and now we’re like brothers. It’s one of the great stories in the history of sport.’ – Daily Mail
Original source: I told Rory, you’re too fat! - Player