For the Elderly, Golf Has Good News
People look at age groups very differently. I am the same age as Tom Watson, and he shot the years of his life the other day. I can scarcely bring myself to use the word elderly looking in the mirror, but perhaps I will admit to being pre-elderly or first-phase elderly. Pursuant to that, however, the older golfers can and should in most cases respond to youngsters telling us what we can do by asking where they got all that experience.
However, for me, it all started with Tom Watson. I’ve seen him play live, and even in later years he hits the ball an awful long ways. Fred Couples and several other seniors do as well. The beautiful thing, though, is that you don’t have to. I’m not talking about surrendering aggression and just moseying along feeling good. Oh no, at any age we can score. Golf is good for us, and good to us.
My own perceptions have changed a lot in the last two weeks, after watching a track meet for men and women over one hundred years of age. True, the elderly competitors couldn’t stretch out a huge stride like a young runner, but they were clearly running well – very impressive. Right then and there, I decided not to whine any more. A few days later, I went to the driving range. What I discovered is, even more than last year, I could get enough club speed going for a significant drive, even with a shortened backswing and slower takeaway to avoid shock to the system. Not only that, but I am hitting it much straighter, putting myself on the fairway more often. I’ll trade a yard or two for that. More important than the club speed, I am as able as I have been for decades to move my hips through faster. If I want the extra yardage of 2000 or 2010, I can still get it with a little concentration, even with a sciatica condition.
That’s the beauty of golf. While you get a little stiffer, it rewards you for getting a little smarter, and a little more disciplined. Most of us who court the term elderly probably shouldn’t line up in a football or rugby scrimmage, but there is a welcoming place for us in golf without giving up the urge to excel and be vital off the tee. Unlike Tom Watson, I am never going to shoot my age, unless I can figure out how to get my thirty-year old self to meet up with the me twenty years from now. Still, he offers the lesson that we should just go right on playing, and expect to improve – although a better model for me might be Bernhard Langer.
We are not all alike. Age doesn’t look or work the same on everyone. Some can take the club back as far as they ever could. Some have developed a considerable body of knowledge with which to compensate for a diminished swing. Some people have never stopped being aggressive competitors, while others play great tortoises to others’ hares. It’s all in how we complement our natures. A wonderful old teacher once told me that “It doesn’t matter if you’re the matador or the blue-eyed Russian poet – use what you are to get it done.”
I have discovered, even within my own family tree, that ageism can be rampant. Apparently, we all walk around with a “sell-by” date on our backs, and the young are always reading it to us. People attempt to prevent me from doing my thing as aggressively as they did when I was too young to do it. The last thing we need to do is apologize for our life experience, or ways of doing things based on it. Incidentally, we can still beat a lot of those folks on the course just by physical serenity while they kill snakes and lose their cool.
Finally, “elderly” isn’t really a word, at least not one we should trouble ourselves with. Take it back as far as you are comfortable, swing through it with the force that makes you feel good, get the hips through as best you can, admire the weather and the scenery, chip and putt like a contender. We’re not too old for golf, and it’s not too old for us.