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

man.”

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.