The lesser-known connection between golfing legend Gary Player and the Church

Gary Player’s daughter, Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, and his late wife, Vivienne Player, joined the Church in the 1990s

In 2021, one of the world’s greatest golfers posted on Instagram about playing a round of golf with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The famous golfer was Gary Player, nicknamed “The Black Knight” and often referred to as one of “The Big Three” golfers of his era, along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. The native of Johannesburg, South Africa, has won more than 160 professional tournaments and claimed nine major championship victories over several decades. He is the recipient of a long list of golfing achievements and awards, including his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Golf legend Gary Player plays golf with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Right, Golf legend Gary Player plays golf with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the Red Ledges Golf Course east of Heber City, Utah, on June 25, 2021. | Provided by Amanda-Leigh Player Hall

On June 25, 2021, Player was delighted to spend time at the Red Ledges Golf Course in Heber Valley, Utah, with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

“I had the pleasure of playing a round of golf with Elder @dieterfuchtdorf. One of the finest gentlemen I have ever met,” Player wrote on Instagram. “He is a principled man that we can all learn from, and it’s safe to say that I am a big admirer of his. I have been touched and inspired by his words of faith and wisdom. In today’s world we need more people like him.”

Player is not a baptized member of the Latter-day Saint faith but has associated with other Church leaders, listened to general conference, often quoted President Gordon B. Hinckley in his speeches and attended sacrament worship services around the world.

What is his main connection to the Church?

His daughter Amanda-Leigh Player Hall and late wife, Vivienne Player, both joined the Church of Jesus Christ in the 1990s.

“My dad has always been this incredible man of faith,” said Hall, his daughter. “He’s such a good man. He loves the principles of the gospel and has a deep faith in Jesus Christ. I see him on his knees every day and every night. Even though I’m the member, he’s a great example to me and I have a lot to learn from him.”

Gary Player reacts to his third shot on the second hole during the first round of the Masters golf tournament.
Gary Player of South Africa reacts to his third shot on the second hole during the first round of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, Thursday, April 9, 2009. | David J. Phillip, AP

Finding the Church

Some of the Player family’s earliest exposure to the Church came through friends. Player played on the PGA Tour with fellow golf legend and Latter-day Saint Billy Casper, himself a convert to the Church. “They were good friends,” Hall said.

Another of her father’s passions is horse racing. His favorite trainer and jockey was also a Church member.

In addition, Hall’s best friend in high school was a Latter-day Saint. During those formative years, she knew something was missing in her life and felt religion could fill that void. Her friend invited her to Church a few times and eventually she was introduced to the full-time missionaries in Johannesburg.

As one of the missionaries held up a flip chart depicting Joseph Smith kneeling in the Sacred Grove, Hall felt a powerful manifestation of the Holy Ghost.

“I had this amazing experience. This feeling overcame me, and I remember being in tears,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was feeling, but I’ll never forget how I felt. I’ve never been able to deny that.”

Amanda-Leigh Player Hall gives her father a kiss while attending the Masters Tournament.
Amanda-Leigh Player Hall gives her father a kiss while attending the Masters Tournament. | Provided by Amanda-Leigh Player Hall

Hall continued meeting with the missionaries and decided to be baptized.

She was worried about telling her parents. It wasn’t a secret that she was investigating the Church, but Hall had heard stories about some families not being supportive. She procrastinated telling her parents until finally one night she entered their bedroom and delivered the news.

“I had never cornered them like that. I’m sure they were thinking I was going to drop out of school or make some terrible life decision,” she said. “I said, ‘I’m going to get baptized.’ They were like, ‘That’s great news.’ They were so supportive, and I think it was because of their friends who were members of the Church.”

Shortly after informing her parents, Hall was baptized in the Sandton Ward, now a part of the Johannesburg South Africa North Stake.

Hall learned that before she was born, the Caspers had arranged for her parents to have discussions with missionaries, and her mother had been very interested.

Mother’s conversion

Following Hall’s baptism, her mother, Vivienne Player, would often visit her college dorm and pick up a copy of the latest Church magazine on the coffee table. She established a pattern of reading Church materials and asking lots of questions.

Vivienne Player began attending Church with Hall. She read a book about gospel principles. She read James E. Talmage’s “Jesus the Christ.” She asked for her own set of scriptures.

“She read everything I gave her,” Hall said.

After Hall graduated from college, she worked in California for a year. Her mother came to see her, and they visited the Caspers, who lived in San Diego. At one point, mother and daughter visited the San Diego California Temple grounds and her mother delivered her own surprising news.

“We were sitting outside. and she said, ‘I’ve decided to be baptized,’” Hall said.

Her father was supportive of his wife joining the Church but had some concerns. Hall said Elder Dennis E. Simmons, a General Authority Seventy then serving in the area presidency and a close friend, provided wise counsel and helped resolve his concerns.

Vivienne Player was baptized two months before Amanda-Leigh departed on her mission.

“This was such a blessing for her. It gave her great purpose,” Hall said.

Right, Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, with her mother Vivienne Player and missionary Elder Michael Pain at her mother’s baptism.
Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, right, with her mother, Vivienne Player, and Elder Michael Pain at her mother’s baptism in Johannesburg, South Africa, in Dec. 1994. | Provided by Amanda-Leigh Player Hall

Speaking Spanish in New Jersey

While working and living alone in California, Hall attended institute and began a deep study of the scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which resulted in some remarkable spiritual experiences.

Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, center, as a missionary with her mission leaders in the 1990s.
Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, center, as a missionary in the New Jersey Morristown Mission with her mission leaders, President Boyd R. Poulton Sr. and his wife, Sister Dee Poulton. | Provided by Amanda-Leigh Player Hall

“I had these amazing personal experiences with the Lord and knew if I could change one person’s life like mine had been changed, that’s the experience I wanted,” she said. “I decided to put in my mission papers.”

If she had been called to some far-off country like India or Mongolia, her father would have refused. Fortunately, it wasn’t an issue. Hall was assigned to the New Jersey Morristown Mission.

She felt strongly prompted to begin learning Spanish and was initially disappointed when she wasn’t called as a Spanish-speaking missionary. Then on her first night in the field, her mission president, President Boyd R. Poulton Sr., said her assignment had been changed — she would be a Spanish-speaking missionary.

“I just sobbed,” she said. “Learning Spanish in the field was hard, but it felt right, and I loved the Spanish-speaking people. Since then it has been an incredible blessing in my life.”

‘Nothing but admiration for the Church’

Today, Hall and her family live in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area, where she continues to serve in the Church, care for her family and is the president and executive director of the Gary and Vivienne Player Foundation, which strives to affect positive change in the lives of vulnerable and underprivileged children around the world.

Her mother died in August 2021 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

At 87 years old, Hall’s father is still playing golf, working out multiple times a week, traveling, making appearances and speaking at events.

Interestingly, Hall had not played golf with her father until recently, when he gave Hall her first set of golf clubs for her 50th birthday. Because golf was a topic discussed at every family meal growing up, Hall opted to play tennis, a sport she excelled in.

“Let’s put it this way — I have a long way to go, but I definitely have good genes,” Hall said of her developing golf game. “I certainly haven’t beaten my dad at golf, but I could beat him at tennis.”

While they miss their wife and mother, they feel blessed by the influence of the gospel and good friends in their lives.

Golfing legend Gary Player, middle, and his daughter Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, third from left, take a photo with family members.
Golfing legend Gary Player, middle, and his daughter Amanda-Leigh Player Hall, third from left, take a photo with family members. | Provided by Amanda-Leigh Player Hall

When Gary Player realized how happy his wife was and the positive impact the gospel had on his daughter and her family, living the gospel became a way of life and brought the family closer together.

“I have nothing but admiration for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Player told the Church News. “I am not a member of the Church, but obviously a great supporter and ambassador. I’ve met so many wonderful people that do so much for people in need.”

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Player lived with Hall’s family and participated in “Come, Follow Me” lessons. He has accepted invitations to speak in Church meetings. He looks forward to hearing the inspirational messages at general conference and holds all missionaries in high regard, knowing that missionary service has blessed his daughter and grandchildren.

Many have asked if Player will ever get baptized? Hall says they have had many discussions about it.

“We’ve tried really hard,” she said with an understanding smile.

She said President Hinckley once asked her father how he felt about the Church.

“My dad said, ‘I think I’m a much better missionary not being a member of the Church.’ President Hinckley said, ‘Well, Gary, there is always deathbed repentance.’ My dad got a real kick out of that. President Hinckley had a great sense of humor,” Hall said.

Golfing legend Gary Player, right, and family members take a photo outside the Laie Hawaii Temple.
Golfing legend Gary Player, right, with family members outside the Laie Hawaii Temple following the sealing of his grandson Luke Hall to his wife, Sarah Daley. | Provided by Amanda-Leigh Player Hall
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