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The key to a long life? ‘Undereating’ and ice baths, says 88-year-old Gary Player, still spritely at 88th Masters

<i>Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Player drives from the tee at the 1965 US Open.
Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Player drives from the tee at the 1965 US Open.

By Jack Bantock, CNN

(CNN) — He’s as old as one of sport’s longest-running tournaments, but Gary Player boomed a tee drive that many a quarter of his age would be content with to raise the curtain on the 88th Masters.

The 88-year-old South African continues to reinforce the “Mr. Fitness” moniker he assumed during a glittering playing career, showcasing his youthful exuberance to all at Augusta National as he joined fellow golf icons Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson as Honorary Starters at the major on Thursday.

After a two-and-a-half-hour delay due to bad weather, huge crowds gathered to watch the all-star trio hit the ceremonial opening shots of the tournament.

Up first, Player remarked that “It’s not so easy to put the ball on the tee now is it?” to his American counterparts, only to then split the first fairway with a smooth drive.

After celebrating the effort with his traditional leg-kick, the three-time Masters champion returned once more to the Augusta National clubhouse to share the secrets of his seemingly perpetual youth.

“First of all, I love life and I love people and I love my job and I’m extremely happy,” Player told reporters, before recounting a visit to a gerontologist – a professional who specializes in the study of aging and the elderly – in India.

“He gave me, I think, the secret to longevity … ten things to work on and I do and I adhere to every day of my life.”

Player explained that he takes an ice-cold bath every morning, but insisted that “the most important thing” for longer living is to “undereat.”

“The gym is important but only a quarter as important as undereating and that’s a medical fact,” Player said.

Overtraining and / or undereating for a prolonged period in an attempt to improve athletic performance can lead to Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDs), according to recent research.

Left untreated, medical experts say REDs can damage an athlete’s metabolism, their bone health – leading to more fractures – their immune system, their cardiovascular health, their menstrual cycle, and mental health, as well as their athletic performance.

It’s “so far, so good” for Player, who played his last Masters in 2009 after a record 52 appearances at Augusta National.

Player was renowned for his endurance across a five-decade career that reaped 165 tournament wins and nine major championships.

The self-described “World’s Most Traveled Athlete”, he told CNN in 2012 that he had clocked in over 15 million air miles during his playing days, and insisted Thursday that no “human being that’s ever lived” had traveled more miles.

“I’m very fit,” he added Thursday. “I still push 300 pounds with my legs. I run the treadmill at max. I read a lot. I laugh a lot and I have love in my heart. That is very, very important.”

Quizzed on their own tips for staying in shape, 84-year-old Nicklaus – the most prolific Masters champion of all time with six wins – credited his five children, 24 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren with keeping him young.

Meanwhile Watson, a two-time green jacket winner, echoed some of Player’s advice.

“I think you surround yourself with people you love, and you eat responsibly,” the 74-year-old answered.

“You do things in life for other people, and you try to have fun, and like Gary said, you’ve got to laugh.”

‘The greatest country that God ever made’

Though born and raised in Johannesburg, Player – who accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Donald Trump in 2021 – reserves the highest praise for the United States.

“If you’re here, you are so blessed, and you should kiss the ground every day,” Player told Masters reporters on the range.

“Just appreciate what this country has done for the world – not only for yourself. It’s about time that America started doing more for their own.”

Player returned to the subject in his press conference, describing a meeting with “one of his heroes”, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, during his first Masters appearance in 1957.

“He’s a man who believed in freedom, and what he did for this great country, you can’t describe it. I had such admiration for him,” Player said.

“You come here to this great country of the United States, the greatest country that God ever made, and that’s a privilege, and an honor,” he added later. “To be part of this tournament is something that is much appreciated.”

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