Why Are There More Successful Older Golfers Today?
From the 18th fairway of the last group of the British Open in 2009, Tom Watson, five-time Open champion, struck a blow that flew straight to the pine. For a moment, it looked like Watson, then 59, would win the tournament for a record sixth time and become the oldest player to win a major championship.
A firm rebound sent the ball to the back of the green, and Watson needed three more strokes to get the ball into the hole. It tied him for the first time. In the four-hole playoffs, he ran out of gas and lost by six shots.
Ten years ago, the idea of an older golfer arguing, let alone winning, a major championship was hardly considered. It was still the time when most golfers ran out of steam in their mid-forties and toured the golf world before making a brief resurgence on the Champions Tour at 50.
The man who beat Watson that day, Stewart Cink, is now part of a group of professional golfers defying age and expectations to fight and win major tournaments and tournaments. Cink, 48, has won the PGA Tour twice this season, his first victories since the 2009 Open.
At the head of these middle-aged mavericks is Phil Mickelson, who, on the verge of turning 51, won the PGA Championship in May. He beat four-time major winner Brooks Koepka and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, both in their 30s.
The squad also includes Lee Westwood, 48, who won his third race in Dubai in 2020. He then finished second behind Bryson DeChambeau at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a finalist the following week in the Players’ Championship behind Justin Thomas.
At last month’s US Open, Richard Bland, 48, of England, became the oldest person to lead this tournament halfway through. He had also been the oldest first-time winner of the European Tour, when he won the Betfred British Masters in May.
“All of these guys took a new approach,” said Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute, which focuses on golf and fitness. “There is a lot of money there. They realize that they can still compete with the younger ones, but they need to spend more time on their bodies and what they are feeding their bodies with.
Phillips, who coaches Jon Rahm, this year’s 26-year-old US Open winner, has been on Mickelson’s training squad for years.
Cink, who is on the court this week at Royal St. George’s, said his two wins this season couldn’t be attributed to anything. “Being 47, 48, I just didn’t feel like I thought it could be when I was 28,” he said. “My heart and my mind make me feel like I’m 10 or 15 years younger. “
He credits the club’s technology, but also the fitness regimen that the players who invented Tiger Woods adopted to compete with him.
Westwood said he always worked to get in shape, and it paid off. But he also knows his limits.
“Everyone’s talking about how far Bryson hits him, and he hits him for miles,” Westwood said. “If you’re younger, you could try to follow him. At 47, 48, you are wiser and more knowledgeable. I couldn’t follow him if I wanted to. But I can hit it first and closer to the pin and put some pressure on it.
It’s often the people who help veteran players that keep them going. Cink gives credit to his son Reagan, who was his junior this year. “It relaxes me, but it’s so much more than that,” Cink said. “He learned to approach golf like me. It’s like having another touring player right next to me.
Emphasis is placed on the conservation of mental energy during the course. The day before a tournament round, Cink and his son examine the next day’s bowling locations on the greens and strategize for each hole.
“I make it a top priority to minimize the energy expenditure when I’m on the course,” he said. “I no longer have this reservoir of energy. When you tire a little, your decision making suffers.
Westwood and her caddy Helen Storey tied the knot in June. It’s always been on his bag since he started playing well last year. “She’s my current psychologist,” he said.
As she has no golf experience, he calculates her distances himself and is responsible for selecting her clubs. While caddies do this normally, they can also disagree with their players, which creates uncertainty. This variable has disappeared for Westwood. “I just worked it myself,” he said.
Mickelson has been very public about his training regime, including the way he hits “bombs” – his term for the really long runs he hits younger players. But he also makes better decisions on the course, Phillips said, as his strategic game to win the PGA Championship this year. (Her caddy is her brother, Tim.)
Phillips said Mickelson and the others were doing lessons for older golfers. “It’s not the strength, but the recovery and downtime that matters,” he said. “It’s letting your body recover. Everyone wants to get fitter, stronger, faster. They are upset when they don’t see the results. But what they do is more tiring on the body than a round of golf.
Crucial for older gamers? Maintain leg strength, Phillips said, and that means walking, not rolling, when you golf.
“There is no doubt that when I went on tour in 1996, it was generally thought that you would retire from professional golf in your mid-thirties and accept a job as a club pro,” said Padraig Harrington, 49, winner of three majors and European Ryder Cup captain this year. “Then more money came in. And now there’s no job that would pay you on top of being on tour. “
Of course, making money and winning are very different things, he said. When the players he competed with in their first win today, he attributes it to their ability to focus on that moment.
“One of the great things you see with Phil, myself, Lee Westwood, is when we’re not in conflict it’s hard,” he said. “When we are in conflict, we come back to it. We are much better when we are in conflict than when we are in this gray area. On Sunday when there is a little energy, we go for it.
It’s experience, of course, but it’s a double-edged sword: with age, players become more familiar with the nuances of the game and, in theory, have a better psychological understanding of what it takes. do. But they have also failed to do so at similar times in the past.
“The reason we go longer is that we have the financial security to go longer,” he said. “We also have the science of sport to reinvent ourselves.”
If there has been an annual fountain of youth, it is the British Open. “The Open is the best of all tournaments for older guys,” Harrington said. “It’s more a question of experience. There is less physics on an open course than a typical stadium course. That’s why Tom Watson was able to compete at 59 at the Open.
As for Cink, he said facing Watson, his two decades older, in the playoffs was actually calming. “As a fan, I was consumed with thinking, watch Watson go, but I realized I was up for it,” Cink said. “The playoffs were almost like an out-of-body experience. I would have sweated bullets, but Watson’s involvement kept me calm. “
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