"The unthinkable has happened. My wife of 64 years, my childhood sweetheart, my rock, and my soulmate Vivienne has lost her battle with pancreatic cancer," Gary Player wrote on a social media post.

"I cannot describe the deep sense of sadness I feel at having lost the one person who has always meant the world to me ..."

Player first asked Vivienne to marry him at 15 years old. The couple eventually married on January 19, 1957, and celebrated their 64th anniversary earlier this year.

Together the couple has six children, 22 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"Vivienne taught me the value of love, faith and trust. She taught our children those same values, and they were blessed to have a mother who lived those values every single day," Player wrote.

"When we first met, I had no doubt it was love at first sight and it turned out to be a love story of a lifetime. I believe it will also be so when we are finally together again.

"Until then, I will miss my Viv dearly."

Vivienne Player, who like her husband was from South Africa, was diagnosed with the illness in June 2020.

"She is the best wife that any man could ever wish for," Player told Tennis World last year.

"You know, no other woman would have stayed with me. I spent more time on aeroplanes than anyone in this planet. And she stayed home with the kids."

Tributes poured in from all corners of the world.

"We all feel your immense loss and sadness. I'm appreciative to have gotten to know her and I know how much you loved sharing your life with her. Our hearts are with you and your family," Phil Mickelson tweeted.

South African-based GolfRSA posted on Twitter: "It is with a heavy heart that we learned that one of golf's biggest patrons, Vivienne Player, lost her long & brave battle with cancer.

"Our sincere condolences goes out to her husband Gary, their children and grandchildren, family and friends."

Player, 85, joined the PGA Tour in 1955 and enjoyed a professional rivalry with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

He won nine major championships on tour, as well as the South African Open 13 times and the World Series of Golf three times.

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.