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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    • Eva Yoe
    • kim on August 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm
    • Reply

    Golf is probably one of the very few sports that you can still be extremely competitive at an older age. Just look at Tom Watson, it is rare but it’s not impossible. Jay Hass, was still featured in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Rankings after his 50th birthday. He could have stayed on the PGA Tour if he wants to, instead he continues his golfing career on the Champion Tour. Betsy King the 56 years old, one of the finest golfer in women golf history qualified for this year’s US Women Open, even though she didn’t make the cut. She sure proves that she still got the game! With all the latest tech, golfer’s career will only get longer.

    • James Williams on March 3, 2013 at 3:47 pm
    • Reply

    “I’m never going back to that first tee all nerve-wracked, half-paralyzed, [and in a] short-muscled [state]” – good for you!

    A role model, a man of resilience, an observer of the traits of successful greats who have crossed the aging-onslaught abyss with success – you have a lot of good things going.

    I think one interesting thing you mentioned, though maybe hidden, was the fact you were doing it in front of your nephews. Many of the people who have single minded devotion towards an object put all that energy into that 1 venue (without family, significant others, charity work, etc) and lose a bit of balance. I’m not certain your professional or family life, but heed that, though you whiffed, you didn’t whiff at being able to bond with your nephews, and to (presumably you have a family?) be a good person!

    Anywho, with the stretching and routines of others mentioned, I think finding a routine and sticking to it (once you have taken notes, and done it repeatedly and observed the affects, and tweaked it a bit) will save you from new circumstances. If, for example,, you drive a certain route, listen to a certain set of songs in the car, warm up a certain way, do certain things, etc.. your body will “get into the golf success groove” no matter if you came from the most unpredictable and strenuous life event before hand or if its just a ho hum day. I think the greats (you probably knw this) would recommend finding a warm-up routine and (tweaking and taking notes is an absolute necessity) sticking to it each time, every time – and then once you have that down, you will know “well at least the bad game wasn’t because I didn’t warm up well.. or this or that” – it eliminates the pre-game variable that could be the cause of bad play and allows you more to fine tune your golf skill set so that your more successful. Anyway, heed the positives, shun the negatives, and go beat those nephews! (or beat your past self’s skill set which was on display to your nephews ☺ )

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