Player says he kissed Mandela’s feet when they met
The first time he met Nelson Mandela, Gary Player got on his
knees and kissed the former political prisoner’s feet.
Remembering his ”very tearful” first encounter with Mandela,
the nine-time major winner paused Friday to compose himself and
hold back more tears.
Mandela, the beloved former South African president and Nobel
laureate, died Thursday at 95.
Renowned as a fierce competitor on the golf course, Player was
invited to meet Mandela at his office in Johannesburg after the
anti-apartheid leader’s release after 27 years in prison.
But he didn’t expect to do what he did, Player said.
”I knelt down and I kissed his feet and I said, `I have never
kissed anybody’s feet in my life,’ and I said, `I have so much
admiration for you.’ I said to him, `It is remarkable, how can you
not have revenge?”’
Mandela’s reply, according to Player, was: ”You have got to
start a new life and forgive and go ahead.”
Player, speaking at the Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City, said
Mandela’s ability to inspire with compassion left him amazed then –
and still does.
”It was very tearful for me, because when you think of a man
that has gone to jail for all those years for doing the right
thing, not the wrong thing, it is hard to comprehend that a man can
come out and be like that,” Player said. ”He was an exceptional
From that first meeting, Player and Mandela would cross paths
regularly as the golfer, one of South Africa’s greatest sportsmen,
worked with the president on charity projects.
Once, Player remembered with a big smile, Mandela landed at a
charity tournament in a helicopter to lend support.
”I had to meet him when the helicopter arrived and open the
door. Now I had been around him all these years raising money for
young black children and I opened the door, and he says `Good
morning Gary, do you remember me?”’ Player recalled, imitating
Mandela’s unique rasping voice. ”Just wonderful.”
Although Player wasn’t sure if he ever saw Mandela swing a golf
club, he knew that the anti-apartheid leader ”realized the value
of sport” and even followed Player’s career overseas while he was
imprisoned by South Africa’s former racist regime.
”He said to me, `When I was in jail, I used to watch you
playing.’ He was very complimentary,” Player said.