Why Are There More Successful Older Golfers Today?

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From fairway 18 in the final group of the British Open in 2009, Five-time Open champion Tom Watson fired a flying shot into the needle. For a moment, Watson, who was 59 years old at the time, seemed like he was going to win the tournament for a record sixth time and become the oldest player to win a major championship.

A hard bounce sent the ball from the back of the court and Watson needed three more shots to get the ball into the hole. This is the first time he has drawn. He ran out of gas in the four-hole playoff and lost by six shots.

Ten years ago, the idea of ​​an older golfer vying for a major championship, let alone a major championship, was hardly thought of. That was when most golfers were exhausted by their mid-40s and kicked off the golf world before experiencing a brief revival on the Champions Tour by the time they turned 50.

The man who beat Watson that day, Stewart Cink, is now part of a group of professional golfers who defy age and expectation, fighting and winning tournaments and majors. Cink, 48, has won twice on the PGA Tour this season, his first win since the 2009 Open.

At the head of these middle-aged mavericks is Phil Mickelson, who is about to turn 51 and won the PGA Championship in May. He defeated four-time champion Brooks Koepka and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, both in their 30s.

The group also includes: Lee WestwoodAt age 48, he won his third Race to Dubai in 2020. He then placed second behind Bryson DeChambeau at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and second behind Justin Thomas in the Players Championship the following week.

At last month’s United States Open, 48-year-old Briton Richard Bland became the oldest person to lead that tournament. half way sign. He also became the oldest person to win for the first time on the European Tour, when he won the Betfred British Masters in May.

“All these guys took a new approach,” he said. Dave PhillipsCo-founder of Titleist Performance Institute, which focuses on golf and fitness. “There’s a lot of money out there. They realize they can still compete with young men, but they need to devote more time to their bodies and the things they feed their bodies.”

Phillips, who trained 26-year-old Jon Rahm winning At this year’s US Open, he has been part of Mickelson’s training team for years.

Royal St. Cink, who was on the field at George’s this week, said his two wins this season cannot be attributed to anything. “Being 47, 48 doesn’t feel the way I thought I would feel when I was 28,” she said. “My heart and my mind make me feel 10, 15 years younger.”

He relies not only on club technology, but also on the fitness regimen adopted by players who came up with Tiger Woods to compete against him.

Westwood said he always worked to be in shape, and it paid off. But he also knows his limits.

“Everybody’s talking about how far Bryson hit, and he hits miles,” Westwood said. “If you’re younger, you can try to keep up with it. You are 47, 48 years old, smarter and more knowledgeable. I couldn’t keep up with him even if I wanted to. But first and I can hit it closer to the pin and put some pressure on it.”

Often times, it’s people helping veteran players who keep them going. Cink counts on his son, Reagan, who has served as his assistant this year. “It puts me at ease, but it’s so much more than that,” Cink said. “He learned to approach golf like me. It’s like having another tour player by my side.”

The emphasis is on maintaining mental energy in the course. The night before a tournament round Cink and his son look at the pin placements on the greens for the next day and map out a strategy for each hole.

“I make minimizing energy expenditure an absolute priority when I’m out on the course,” he said. “I no longer have that store of energy. When you get a little tired, your decision-making suffers.”

Westwood and his car, Helen Storey, got married In June. It’s always been in his bag since he started playing well last year. “He’s my course psychologist,” he said.

Since he has no golf background, he calculates his own yards and is responsible for club selection. While rosters normally do this, they may not get along with their players, causing uncertainty. This variant went for Westwood. “I’m just handling it myself,” he said.

Mickelson has been very public about his training regimen, including how he hits “bombs” – the term he uses for very long rides where he hits young players. But Phillips said he made better decisions on the course, as well as his strategic game in winning the PGA Championship this year. (His Caddy is his brother Tim.)

Phillips said what Mickelson and others are doing is providing lessons for older golfers. “It’s not the power that matters, it’s the recovery and downtime,” he said. “It allows your body to heal. Everyone wants to be fitter, stronger, faster. They get upset when they can’t see the results. But what they’re doing is exhausting the body rather than playing a round of golf.”

Is it very important for older players? Keep your leg strength, Phillips said, and that means walk while you play golf, don’t ride a horse.

“When I went on tour in 1996, it was generally thought that you would retire from professional golf in your mid-30s and start a professional job at a club,” said Padraig Harrington, 49, three major winners and European captain. Ryder Cup this year. “Then more money went into the game. And now there is no job that will make you money besides being on tour. ”

Of course, making and earning money are very different things,” he said. The players he competed with in the first place today attribute their victory to their ability to focus on the moment.

“One of the biggest things you see in Phil is when we’re not in contention, it’s hard,” Lee Westwood said. “When we get into conflict, we go back in. When we’re in a conflict, we’re much better off than when we’re in that gray zone. We set out on Sunday when there is some energy.”

It’s experience, of course, but it’s a double-edged sword: With age, players learn more about the nuances of the game and, in theory, have a better psychological understanding of what to do. However, they have failed to do so at similar moments in the past.

“The reason we’re taking longer is because we have the financial security to last longer,” he said, “and we also have the sports science to reinvent ourselves.”

If there’s an annual fountain of youth, it’s the British Open. “The Open is the best of all tournaments for seniors,” Harrington said. “It’s more about experience. An open track has less physicality than a typical stadium track. That’s why Tom Watson can race in the Open at age 59.”

As for Cink, he said that meeting Watson, who is twenty years his senior, in the playoffs was actually calming. “As a fan, I got tired of thinking about Watson go, but then I realized I was in a fight,” Cink said. “The playoff felt almost like an out-of-body experience. I’d be sweating bullets, but Watson’s involvement calmed me down.”

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