Why Are There More Successful Older Golfers Today?

From the 18th fairway within the last group of the British Open in 2009, Tom Watson, the five-time Open champion, hit a shot that flew proper on the pin. For a second, it regarded like Watson, then age 59, would win the event for a document sixth time and grow to be the oldest participant to win a significant championship.

A agency bounce despatched the ball off the again of the inexperienced, and Watson wanted three extra pictures to get the ball into the opening. That dropped him right into a tie for first. In the four-hole playoff, he ran out of fuel and misplaced by six pictures.

A decade in the past, the thought of an older golfer contending in, not to mention successful, a significant championship was one thing few thought of. That was nonetheless the time when most golfers petered out of their mid-40s and kicked across the golf world earlier than having a quick resurgence on the Champions Tour once they turned 50.

The man who beat Watson that day, Stewart Cink, is now a part of a gaggle {of professional} golfers defying age and expectation to contend and win tournaments and majors. Cink, 48, has gained twice this season on the PGA Tour, his first wins because the 2009 Open.

Leading these middle-age mavericks is Phil Mickelson, who, about to show 51, gained the P.G.A. Championship in May. He beat Brooks Koepka, a four-time main winner, and Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, who’re each of their 30s.

The group additionally contains Lee Westwood, 48, who gained his third Race to Dubai in 2020. He then completed second to Bryson DeChambeau on the Arnold Palmer Invitational and runner-up the subsequent week on the Players Championship to Justin Thomas.

At final month’s United States Open, Richard Bland, 48, of England, grew to become the oldest particular person to ever lead that event on the halfway mark. He had additionally been the oldest first-time winner on the European Tour, when he gained the Betfred British Masters in May.

“All these guys have taken a new approach,” mentioned Dave Phillips, co-founder of the Titleist Performance Institute, which focuses on golf and health. “There’s a lot of money out there. They realize they can still compete with the younger guys, but they need to spend more time on their body and what they fuel their body with.”

Phillips, who trains Jon Rahm, the 26-year-old winner of this yr’s U.S. Open, has for years been a part of Mickelson’s coaching group.

Cink, who’s within the discipline this week at Royal St. George’s, mentioned his two wins this season couldn’t be attributed to anyone factor. “Being 47, 48, just doesn’t feel like I thought it might feel when I was 28,” he mentioned. “My heart and mind make me feel like I’m 10, 15 years younger.”

He credit membership know-how, but additionally the health routine that gamers who got here up with Tiger Woods embraced to compete towards him.

Westwood mentioned he had at all times labored on being match, and it has paid off. But he additionally is aware of his limits.

“Everyone talks about how far Bryson hits it, and he hits it miles,” Westwood mentioned. “If you’re younger you might try to keep up with him. At 47, 48, you’re wiser and more knowledgeable. I couldn’t keep up with him if I wanted to. But I can hit it first and closer to the pin and put a bit of pressure on him.”

Often it’s the folks serving to veteran gamers who hold them going. Cink credit his son Reagan, who has been his caddie this yr. “He does relax me, but it’s so much more than that,” Cink mentioned. “He’s learned to approach golf like I do. It’s like having another tour player right beside me.”

The emphasis is on conserving psychological vitality on the course. The night time earlier than a event spherical, Cink and his son take a look at the subsequent day’s pin placements on the greens and map a method for every gap.

“I make it an absolute priority to minimize the energy expenditure when I’m out there on the course,” he mentioned. “I don’t have that reservoir of energy anymore. When you fatigue a bit, your decision making suffers.”

Westwood and his caddie Helen Storey married in June. She has been on his bag constantly since he started to play effectively final yr. “She’s my on-course psychologist,” he mentioned.

Since she doesn’t have a golf background, he calculates his yardages himself and is answerable for his membership choice. While caddies usually do this, they will additionally disagree with their gamers inflicting uncertainty. That variable is gone for Westwood. “I just work it out myself,” he mentioned.

Mickelson has been very public about his coaching routine, together with how he hits “bombs” — his time period for the very lengthy drives he hits previous youthful gamers. But he’s additionally making higher selections on the course, Phillips mentioned, like his strategic play in successful the P.G.A. Championship this yr. (His caddie is his brother, Tim.)

Phillips mentioned what Mickelson and the others had been doing offered classes for older golfers. “It’s not strength, but the recovery and the downtime that matter,” he mentioned. “It’s letting your body recover. Everyone wants to get fitter, stronger, faster. They’re upset when they don’t see the results. But what they’re doing is fatiguing to the body more so than a round of golf.”

Crucial for older gamers? Maintain leg power, Phillips mentioned, and which means stroll, don’t experience, while you play golf.

“There’s no doubt when I came out on tour in 1996 generally you were thought to retire from professional golf in your mid-30s and take a club professional job,” mentioned Padraig Harrington, 49, winner of three majors and the European captain for the Ryder Cup this yr. “Then more money came into the game. And now there is no job that would pay you as well as being on tour.”

Of course, incomes cash and successful are very various things, he mentioned. When the gamers he competed with of their prime win right now, he attributes it to their potential to deal with that second.

“One of the big things you see with Phil, myself, Lee Westwood is when we’re not in contention it’s tough,” he mentioned. “When we do get into contention, we get back into it. We’re much better when we’re in contention than when we’re in that gray zone. Sunday when there’s a bit of energy, we get going.”

It is expertise, for certain, however that could be a double-edged sword: With age, gamers are extra educated concerning the nuances of the sport and have, in principle, a greater psychological understanding of what to do. But they’ve additionally failed to try this in comparable moments previously.

“The reason we’re going longer is we have the financial security to go longer,” he mentioned “We also have the sports science to reinvent ourselves.”

If there ever was an annual fountain of youth, it’s the British Open. “The Open is the best of all the tournaments for the older guys,” Harrington mentioned. “It’s more about experience. There’s less physicality on an Open course than a typical stadium course. That’s why Tom Watson could compete at 59 years old at the Open.”

As for Cink, he mentioned going through Watson, who’s 20 years his senior, within the playoff was really calming. “As a fan I was consumed thinking, look at Watson go, but then I realized I was in contention,” Cink mentioned. “The playoff almost felt like an out-of-body experience. I would have been sweating bullets, but having Watson involved kept me calm.”

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