Gary Player may be one of the greatest golfers of all time, but in a visit to Humana headquarters in Louisville this week, his message wasn’t about backswings or tee times.
Instead, the man known as Mr. Fitness talked about bacon and ice cream, how he once loved them and how he gave them up. “You have to make a sacrifice somewhere for the sake of your health,” he said. “No one is going to do it for you.”
In partnership with Humana, Player has become a “well-being ambassador” for the company. He gives frequent talks on health and fitness and will be spreading his message during the Humana Challenge golf tournament in January. Now retired, Player has won 165 golf tournaments worldwide, including nine major championships and is one of only five pro golfers to win each of the sport’s four major tournaments: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship.
When he visited Louisville, Player discussed the importance of a healthy lifestyle with Humana associates. “Do not let yourself become obese,” he said. “Obesity is the number one problem facing the U.S. If you’re overweight now, you don’t have to feel bad about it, you just have to change. Change is the price of survival. You owe it to your country and, if you’re a parent, you owe it to your children. Set an example for them.”
Humana associate Chris Williams brought her husband and two sons to meet Player because of the example he sets. “He’s someone to look up because he’s not just a great golfer, but a great role model,” said Williams. “We all golf in our family, and I had to bring the kids because he shows us that getting older doesn’t mean you have to get frail and give up.”
Player, who turns 78 on November 1, has honed a physique that would be the envy of a man decades younger. The editors of ESPN The Magazine invited him to pose in their recent Body issue. An accompanying video on ESPN’s website describes him as “a pioneer of exercise, diet and conditioning in the sport of golf.” The South Africa native was initially reluctant about the shoot, but said, “It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve heard from so many people who’ve told me, ‘If you can look like that at nearly 80, maybe I can change, too.’”
Humana associate Drew Arnold came to meet Player because his message “Completely hit home for me.” Arnold was once a 300-pound college football center, but lost more than a third of that weight and keeps it off in part by running four times a week at lunch. “It’s a great message and he’s a great spokesman.”
Player urged associates to internalize Humana’s message about the importance of making healthy choices every day, a message he punctuated with golf jokes, a set of karate kicks and a slap to his own muscled midsection. When he finished, associates offered enthusiastic applause.
“Thank you. I appreciate that,” he said with a smile. “But do it.”