How Far Did Gary Player Drive The Golf Ball?

Gary Player was one of the most tenacious golfing competitors of the 20th century but how far did the South African drive the golf ball?

Gary Player
Gary Player driving in the Piccadilly World Matchplay at Wentworth in 1964
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Gary Player has had a remarkable career as a professional golfer. He joined the paid ranks in 1953 and is still playing exhibitions and giving clinics 70 years later.

In his prime he was renowned as a steely competitor and a habitual winner. During his career he has claimed an astonishing 159 victories. Those wins include nine Major championships. He was the first non-American player to complete the career Grand Slam, a feat he accomplished in 1965 when he took the US Open title.

Player’s game has always been one of great consistency and repeatability and his short game, in particular his bunker play, is famously brilliant. He has also always been known for his exceptional physical fitness, a trait he prides himself on even now into his late 80s. But, despite his impressive physical strength he never hit a particularly long ball. He kept the ball in play, gave himself a chance to score and to use his competitive prowess to get the job done – which he very often did.

In fact, in the early 1960s, he was known for using a 4-wood from the tee. He explained to Sports Illustrated during a 1963 interview that he was happy to sacrifice a little yardage to guarantee being on the fairway. He didn’t mind hitting a five-iron when others were hitting a six or seven as he still backed himself to get it close.

Also in that interview, he talked of his hitting power in comparison to his rivals in the “big three” Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer:

"You have to remember that I expect to be outdriven by Arnold and Jack, so it doesn't bother me. Arnold weighs 25 pounds more than I do and Jack 50 pounds more,” he said. 

Arnold Palmer drove the ball on average somewhere around the 265-270 mark with Jack Nicklaus hitting it around 10 yards more than that. So it’s fair to say, by his own admission, Player averaged a little less than those numbers.

But, the diminutive South African recognised that at some tournaments he needed to be able to shift the ball a little further. With his work ethic, he found a way to do that when required. 

Gary Player

Player driving in The Open Championship of 1960

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Talking to Golf Digest in 1961, Player spoke of making a series of swing adjustments to hit the ball further in order to have a chance at winning the Masters – he felt he needed more distance off the tee to reach the par-5s in two. The South African lengthened his driver by half an inch, and changed his technique to make a more significant weight shift from right to left in order to gain, in his words, “up to 30 yards.”

Player won the Masters of 1961 and then took two more titles – 1974 and 1978.

There are pretty much no stats available from when Gary Player was in his prime to give a definitive answer as to how far he drove the golf ball. But we can go on the evidence that by his own words, and anecdotally – he wasn’t able to keep up with Jack and Arnie from the tee. He also would purposefully not take driver to make sure he found fairways. An estimate of his driving distance average when he was at the peak of his playing powers would be somewhere around the 250-260 yard mark.

Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?