By Nancy Haggerty
TARRYTOWN – Gary Player was once of the world’s top golfers.
Now he’s even happier as a top philanthropist.
The 80-year-old, three-time Masters champion was honored Tuesday night by the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association at its 64th annual National Awards Dinner at the Westchester Marriott for his work promoting education for underprivileged children on four continents.
The Player Foundation, which the South African formed 32 years ago, has raised more than $60 million for that purpose.
“It’s more gratifying (than golf),” said Player, who won the Winnie Palmer Award, named after Arnold Palmer’s late wife, who was deeply involved in charity work. “I don’t believe in legacies. Everything shall pass. I don’t live to have a legacy. It’s about what you do now.”
He termed education “The light.”
Player, who won $35,000 in a 70-plus tournament, playing with Jack Nicklaus five weeks ago, and Nelson Mandela, who went from apartheid prisoner to South Africa’s president, raised just under $20 million together to educate poor, black South African children.
“He was a delightful human being, a son of God,” Player said of Mandela. “He had no vengeance for the white man. No hatred, only love.”
The night’s biggest award went to Hall of Fame golfer Nick Price, who was also born in South Africa but was raised in Zimbabwe. Price, 58, who lives in Florida, received the Gold Tee for achievements exemplifying the traditions and spirit of golf.
“I got 1,000 times more than I ever thought I would out of it,” the British Open and two-time PGA champion said of golf.
Price, who was PGA Tour Player of the Year in 1993 and ’94 and who last played on the PGA Tour in 2006, is now a part-timer on the senior Champions Tour.
He believes golf is in good shape but called for placing restrictions on clubs and balls, since technology has effectively shortened courses.
“The only thing I’m worried about is what the equipment is doing to old golf courses that have stood the test of time. That’s something that kind of needs to be addressed,” he said.
Also honored was LPGA player Morgan Pressel, who won the Bing Crosby Tournament Sponsor Award for her foundation’s fundraising to fight cancer.
The Lincoln Werden Golf Journalism Award went to Massachusetts resident Ron Sirak, a writer for Golf Digest. Sirak, who has covered golf for 28 years, remarked of golfers, “They’re the most accessible athletes in any sport. … People say, ‘You write about golfers.’ I say I write about people who happen to play golf.’ “
The Mary Bea Porter Award went to Lauren Child, a North Greenville University golfer, who darted from a South Carolina golf course to help give CPR to a man who’d suffered a heart attack.
The 116-year-old Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association, which in part promotes girls junior golf, received the Distinguished Service Award and Glen Oaks in Old Westbury was named club of the year.