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Aug 16

Golf Longevity…It’s a Stretch

I haven’t wiffed a golf ball since I was eight, but it almost happened last week on the first tee with my adult nephews looking on. A wave of “Oh no! It’s finally happened. I’m old!” swept over me. As I thought about it later, it became clear that I got exactly what I deserved after too short a sleep, a plateful or two of generally disagreeable food and the omission of any preparatory stretching. I was acting like a teenager, and even they shouldn’t act like that.

I knew the truth. Vladimir Horowitz was still knocking out the Rachmaninoff in his mid-eighties. Margot Fonteyn had a forty-year dance career, an absurd thought in ballet. Sam Snead had more limberness in his seventies than I’ve ever had, and Gary Player? Well, Gary was just plain right all along. The nut case who preached nutrition, conditioning and stretching turned out to be the sane one…the push-up and sit-up king…go figger. Were these people just special cases? Was emulating them an act of futility?
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No, these people all had one thing in common. They developed and stuck to a regimen they believed in. They didn’t cut corners, and they didn’t brush it off on mornings when they didn’t feel like extending themselves. They walked their talk, and it paid off.

I followed Gary Player through eighteen holes at the Jeld-Wen, and met him afterwards. All day long, I watched the seventy four year-old work with a young man’s body, a young man’s swing and a young man’s mind…and this after an hour of careful, methodical stretching and smooth, full-spectrum swinging on the practice tee.

People who are so sure of themselves can, at times, be irritating, particularly if their certainty highlights our lack of it, but there was no room for it that day. Player simply appeared and played in a condition that could only be the product of a long-term discipline and an unswerving mental regimen. His results were inarguable. He has forced age to mean something different in his case.

The mainstream of the fifties and sixties wrote Gary Player off, claiming that he would burn himself out, ruin his swing by becoming overly muscle-bound and, in short, amount to no more than a fad. A lot of people fell for it, but not this time, not me. A few days after almost missing that ball, I ran across an article by Sarah Chiuppi on the benefits of yoga on one’s golf game, and it gave me a Gary Player flashback.

Like Player, Chiuppi exhibits a disciplined conditioning impossible to reach by accident, and the low-impact approach makes perfect sense. Fortunately, the world of yoga has gone far, far past being the cultural oddity envisioned by westerners of several decades ago. Her recommendations are clearly listed and demonstrated on several sites, and they’re worth a good look. I was surprised not to have heard of her before, and to see so few fellow devotees of this regimen that seems so empathetic to successful, healthy golf. I hope that someone will delve more deeply into her work and report further on it.

Whatever a practitioner’s spiritual aims, it seems to me that everything about the physical body prefers stretching to being compacted, and that extends to the emotional world as well. Everything in life loves to stretch, and I can’t think of an exception. If you can, tell me.

Regardless, my mind is made up. I’m never going back to that first tee all nerve-wracked, half-paralyzed, short-muscled, barely awake and generally unprepared. I’m going to honor the old adage, “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill,” and show those nephews what golf is all about through precision preparation. Well, all right, maybe that’s a stretch.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.