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  • Alistair Tait

What Else Would Old Golfers Do?

Walk along the practice range at Sunningdale Golf Club in this week’s Senior Open Championship and you’ll probably see a lot of 50+ plus guys grinding it out as if they were still in their 20s.

Actually, some 20 year olds would do well to go and watch those old fellas. Those hot shots who think they’re working hard might have to think again when they see the dedication with which some of the guys on the Senior Tours work on their games.

It’s further proof that the greatest of all stick and balls sports can never really be mastered. What was it Tom Watson said?

“My golf swing is a bit like ironing a shirt. You get one side smoothed out, turn it over and there is a big wrinkle on the other side. Then you iron that one out, turn it over and there is yet another wrinkle.”

You’ll see a lot of guys this week trying to iron out wrinkles long after they probably expected to have crease-free swings by this stage in their careers. Trying to beat golf is a bit like painting the Forth Road Bridge: when you think the job is done you often have to start over again.

That’s what a lot of players, good ones too, are doing this week: starting over again. Thomas Bjorn (pictured) is among those making his debut in the Senior Open. Why not? The over 50 circuits, the Champions and Legends Tours, are the best mulligans in golf. Why go gentle into that good night when there’s a chance to pick up a fortune playing against guys your own age rather than young guns who bomb it 350 yards:

“Why would I want to be out there with all those young guns?” Lee Trevino once said. “No sense playing the flat bellies when I can play the round bellies.”

How many other sports offer a second bite at the cherry? Not many. Besides, what are players supposed to do when they retire from the regular tours? Sit at home and twiddle their thumbs? They can’t all make lucrative careers in TV commentary like Nick Faldo, even though many could arguably do a far better job.

How many of those competing at Sunningdale thought they’d still be working on their short games, wondering about changing putting grips, and still looking for the perfect driver at this stage of their lives? How many, if you asked them 30 years ago, would have seen themselves playing on the senior tour? It would be an interesting poll.

True, there are those for whom the senior tour is that chance they arguably never got to play professional golf at a high level. You could probably name a dozen players in this week’s field who tried to make it on the European Tour, the PGA Tour, but never succeeded. They’re living the dream when athletes in other sports would still just be dreaming of glory days.

Take Gary Wolstenholme. The Englishman was a career amateur in his pre-50s, and a good one too. He won two Amateur Championships, played in six Walker Cups, four times on winning teams, and earned a gazillion caps as an England International. He jumped at playing the European Senior Tour upon turning 50. He’s done quite well, too: he has three senior tour victories and just under €1 million in earnings.

The recent Senior Amateur Championship at Ganton was notable because the over 55s were. clearly still dedicated to trying to become better golfers, even though they were obviously long past their physical prime. Those in the field were enjoying the chance to play high calibre competitive golf, many who had worked hard to build successful businesses during their working lives. Many would have dreamed of the day when they could retire to play full-time golf, and were basking in that reality.

Ditto the world's top seniors at Sunningdale, enjoying the second stage of their careers, still looking for the holy grail even if it's an illusion. And why not? What else would old golfers do except continue to play this grand old game for as long as they can still swing a club?

No wonder golf is a game for the ages, the best sport ever invented.

#JustSaying: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw

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