Why Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy aren’t yet ‘superstars,’ according to Gary Player

phil mickelson and rory mcilroy

While great players, Gary Player doesn't think Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy are true superstars yet.

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This week in Bamberger Briefly, Michael Bamberger offers five quickies about where golf has been in this odd spring as we anticipate the PGA Tour’s return to action next week at the Colonial Country Club. Part I: Bryan Zuriff, Match II Producer.

You wouldn’t call this year funny, but we’ve all had some moments of comic relief. I’m thinking now about Slugger White, the veteran PGA Tour rules official, telling me about a “Superstars” competition that occupied him and his buddies in the mid-1970s in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Their day-long event consisted of golf, bowling and shooting pool. Yes, they were triathletes, taking their inspiration from an ABC show called The Superstars in which famous athletes climbed walls, raced bikes and played Ping-Pong, among other assorted activities. O.J. Simpson was your winner in ’75.

The old show came to mind when I was visiting with Gary Player the other day. For about 10 weeks now, Player and his wife, Vivienne, have been staying with one of their daughters, Amanda-Leigh, in the far outskirts of Philadelphia. I went out for visit. (Read all about it in the next issue of GOLF. The actual physical magazine — it’s a beautiful thing!) At one point, Gary said, “In my mind, to be a superstar, you have to have won six majors.”

Among living male players: Jack Nicklaus has 18, Tiger Woods has 15, Gary Player has nine, Tom Watson has eight and Lee Trevino has six, as does Nick Faldo.

”It’s funny you say that, because I was once with Raymond Floyd, and he referred to himself as a superstar,” I said.

“Did he!” Player said.

“He did.”

It was amusing.

I would say Floyd was absolutely a star, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and one of the important players of his generation, for sure. A long, long career. But I wouldn’t call him a superstar. He wasn’t going to a mall and getting mobbed.

“No, five majors — he’s one short,” Player said.

“I think he has four,” I said.

“Maybe he does!”

Player called out to a nearby grandson, laptop on lap.

“Jordy, look it up: How many majors did Raymond Floyd win?”

The answer came in seconds, of course. (Kids!) Four: two PGAs, one U.S. Open, one Masters.

Four gives him the same total as Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Ernie Els.

“Maybe I should lower it to five,” Gary said, playfully. Phil Mickelson has five. Seve Ballesteros, tragically, is stuck on five.

“I would say Seve was a superstar,” I said. “He really was the Arnold Palmer of Europe.”

“I would agree,” Gary said.

We discussed whether Roberto DiVicenzo (only one major but a towering figure in South American golf) deserved a special exemption, into superstar status. We talked about the Australian Peter Thomson — five, all British Opens — too. Player was not open to a discussion about Byron Nelson as a superstar. “Nice man, but he did not play the world!” Gary said. “You must play the world to be a superstar!”

Player is partial to world travel, and to longevity.

The author, left, with Player, has never come close to winning a major, let alone six of them.

Player played the world, and did so in a serious way for over 40 years. Nine majors, and that’s before you start counting the nine he won on the senior circuit. Talk about your superstars. Gary Player, mon. Gary Player!

He’s 84 and he plays as much as he can. His goal is to break his age by 18 shots.

We did some planks on his front walkway, or I should say his daughter’s. Elbows on the cement, no complaints. It could have been the first part of a homemade triathlon, I don’t know. If so, I was one down after one.

Gary Player. Superstar!

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael_Bamberger@GOLF.com

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Michael Bamberger

Golf.com

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and contributes to GOLF.com. He also participates in podcasts, primarily in tandem with Alan Shipnuck. Earlier in his career, he was a senior writer for Sports Illustrated for 23 years and a reporter on The Philadelphia Inquirer for nine years before that. He has written a half-dozen books about golf and other subjects. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on a utility golf club called the E-Club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.