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  • Alistair Tait

Golf for the aged?

Never again let it be said such and such a player is running out of time to make his or her mark in this game. Phil Mickelson’s PGA Championship win proves beyond doubt many in this game have plenty of time to notch their first major victory, complete the grand slam or even win their first tournament.

No one would be surprised if Mickelson joins the grand slam club at next month’s U.S. Open even though he turns 51 the day before championship kicks off. Why not? He won the PGA at 50? If not this year, then maybe 2022, or 2023, or even 2030…

The left hander showed those who have the talent, dedication, perseverance, who keep themselves fit and competitive, can defy what many once thought impossible: win a major in their sixth decade.

If you go by Mickelson’s example, then Rory McIlroy has at least another 18 years to get that Masters win to complete the grand slam and join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods as a member of that elite club. Rory’s only 32.

Jordan Spieth has even more time on his side. At 27, he has at least 23 years to win the PGA Championship to add to his Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship trophies.

As for players like Lee Westwood and others in their late 40s. Surely Mickelson’s win must be inspiring? Maybe those who were previously content to wind down to the 50 mark to take advantage of the riches on the senior tours should think again. Maybe they should get back in the gym, spend more time on the range, work hard on their chipping and putting.

Westwood and co should heed Mickelson’s words. The secret to Phil’s sixth major victory:

“Worked harder is the deal. I just had to work harder physically to be able to practice as long as I wanted to.
“My desire to play is the same. I've never been driven by exterior things. I've always been intrinsically motivated because I love to compete, I love playing the game. I love having opportunities to play against the best at the highest level. That's what drives me.
“I just didn't see why it couldn't be done. It just took a little bit more effort.”

Westwood appears to have already taken that advice to heart considering he won last year’s Race to Dubai for the third time at age 47, and has two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour this year in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship.

Forget Mickelson. Bernhard Langer at age 63 can still mix it up with the youngsters. His words at Augusta last month proved eerily prophetic when the fairy dust settled on the 103rd PGA Championship. Remember what Langer said:

“I absolutely believe a player in his fifties will win a major. I’ll tell you why. Guys are staying fitter. Look at players like Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh — they go on and on. Tom Watson almost won The Open when he was nearly 60 and this generation will maintain their fitness and health much better.
“I put Lee Westwood in that category. He looks a little overweight, but he is very fit. In the years ahead there are going to be more and more guys realising they can prolong their careers into their fifties and maybe sixties.”

Who knows what the age limit on oldest major winner is nowadays considering the huge advances in technology that have enabled older players to keep up with the young guns? Devices like TrackMan have been a godsend for all players, elderly ones too. They can equip themselves with the best clubs and balls that fit their games in the space of an afternoon. Mickelson seems to be as long now as he was in his prime. Ditto for Westwood.

Mickelson’s victory wasn’t so much a win for the ages, as one for the aged. Who’ll follow him as the next 50-something major champion?

Are you listening Lee John Westwood?

#JustSaying: “Golf: a game in which you claim the privileges of age, and retain the playthings of childhood.” Samuel Johnson

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