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As we get older, the discussion about longevity can take several forms; sometimes it’s about how long we might live, sometimes about health issues, sometimes about quality of life. When we become “senior” golfers, the conversation becomes how much longer we can enjoy playing golf. It has been known for years golfing is a healthy form of exercise. A study of 300,000 golfers published in 2008 by a Swedish medical journal revealed the death rate among golfers was 40 percent lower than the rest of the population, equating to an increase in life expectancy of five years. Other more recent studies of Americans have produced similar results. But that begs the question, how do we continue to play good golf after 65, and well into our 80s?
The “poster child” of golfing longevity is, of course, Sam Snead, winner of 82 PGA Tour tournaments, now tied with Tiger Woods for the most of all time, and who passed in 2002 four days before his 90th birthday. In 1983, Snead shot a 60 and The Homestead G.C. at age 71; and in 1997 at age 85 he shot a 78 at The Greenbrier. He is the oldest golfer ever to make a PGA Tour cut when he did so at age 67 at the 1979 Manufacturers Hanover Western Classic.
As a kid, I watched the legendary pitcher Satchel Paige play for the Cleveland Indians. He pitched his last MLB game at age 59, still a record. He once said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?” Good point.
There may be dozens of factors involved with some decline in golfing performance and results in terms of score as we age, especially over 65. But let’s consider just five of the most important of these.
The first is Faltering Swing Mechanics. The golf swing is at once simple but quite complicated, using 180 body parts (yes, it’s true) to accomplish. Some less flexibility is to blame, as well overall muscle and bone stiffness. There is no substitute for a swing coach to get you realigned and swinging like a younger golfer.
The second factor is probable lack of fitness. Over my many years teaching golf with Herb Wimberly, and my 18 years writing this column, I have repeatedly emphasized disciplined gym workouts, for which there is no substitute. Fitness includes strength, flexibility, balance, mobility and stamina. If you’re over 65, as the saying goes, use it or lose it, and train it or drain it. We can counter muscle mass decline and loss of coordination with strong exercises that maintain what we have already. Create a gym habit. With increased fitness generally comes increased power; clubhead and ball speed depend on power, and distance depends on power. And to some extent, scoring depends on distance.
Next let’s consider decline in visual acuity and concentration steadiness – basically wrapped up in one word, “focus.” Vision, mental alertness, awareness and concentration tend to become compromised as we age past 50. The challenges of judging distances, depth perception, reading the greens and proper aim may become more apparent. Distance reading devices like laser scopes and GPS units help. Reading a lot and doing crossword and other puzzles help with mental sharpness. I feel I have enhanced my brainpower over the 18 years that I have been researching and writing this column.
Many older adults remark about reduction in taste, smell, eyesight, sense of spatial orientation and especially hearing. So too, older golfers often experience a decline of their touch and feel when golfing. Take putting, for example. Putting and chipping don’t depend on pure strength, but they do rely on deft touch, feel, aim, tempo and a sense of imagination. That comes with lots of practice, regardless of age. Remember to be thankful for what you have; forget what you’ve lost.
Lastly, we can’t forget our overall health. That includes mindful nutrition, sleep, hydration, and a positive outlook. Ongoing obesity won’t help your golf game. If you aren’t paying close attention to your health habits, you’re missing a critical key of longevity. Carter Schmitz of ScratchGolfTraining.com advises, “(Longevity) is an un-ending process and journey to create a highly resilient physical body.”