What Is It That Makes a Multi-talented Late Bloomer?
The most common story is that a player picks up his or her first club in childhood, hits a natural 100 yard drive, sinks a 15-footer, and is off to fame and fortune as a touring player. For the early starter, there are many inherent advantages, including a host of mentors from local golf pros to parents who can get things going on the right track without having to undo and backtrack for years. Likewise, the ranks of juniors and teens all the way to minor tours provide a constant competitive opportunity that the late bloomer can’t join. Very often, those who decide later to play golf as a serious business tried every other kind of sport available. That sort of upbringing is hard to resist.
Regardless, by the time Q-School and rookie years arrive, most on the roster has been swinging away from childhood. But, there is a late bloomer or two in there as well. Some start years later, but still get there. And, for many, winning takes places in the 30s and 40s, even the occasional 50s. In the PGA ranks, Larry Nelson was a late starter, as were Ian Poulter and Calvin Peete. Ye Yang, who won the 2009 PGA Championship at 21 came by an unfamiliar route. Following a workplace injury, he worked on the driving range. Nicholas Lindheim was a rookie at 32. Entirely self-taught, he didn’t go to college, missing another round of high level competition. His education was obtained rather in the cart barn.
In the late bloomer stage, Vijay Singh won 34 of his wins after the age of 30, and 22 more in his 40s. Zack Johnson of Drake University, not a school that always rolls off the tongue for famous golfers, won 11 of his 12 victories in the 30s, including a Masters and an Open. Steve Stricker only won twice in his 20s, but nine times in his 40s. Kenny Perry did the same, winning 11 times in his 40s.
Less late bloomer data is to be found on the internet for women, but Canadian Lorie Kane is an example. Gerina Piller played every sport available, and adored baseball. And, in a heroic reversal, Sara Hoffman has temporarily abandoned her golf career to serve as a nurse during the Covid epidemic. That moving point is an incredible look at who she really is.
In terms of diversity, younger or older doesn’t seem to make much difference. There is a larger category of people, such as myself, who is very coordinated at one thing, but nothing else. It baffles me to this day that I am such an average golfer as to barely recognize the guy in his own picture. But, there is a smaller group who seem to be able to translate physical gifts from sport to sport. It may be that some sports are actually instructive to a golfer. Interesting is that that Kane and her young colleague Brooke Henderson are hockey lovers, pond or institutional rink. There is something about the need for reflexes in such a sport that sharpen a person, certainly their competitive edge.
There remains the mystery component in the multi-talented late bloomer that can not be pinned down yet by science. Perhaps it is to be found in a brain that says, “Sport is sport is sport, and I’m good at all of them because I don’t see a huge difference between them.” Maybe my sort of brain says, “Oh, no, I’ve never tried this one before. How do you do it?”
I guess if there’s one conclusion to be gained, it is not to discount the late bloomer, even if the game is usually developed very young. We are reminded at how wondrous the wiring of a human being really is, and how different we all are.