Improving with age

In a world obsessed with numbers why should we expect golfers to be any different? We all need goals and one of the favourites for older players is to try to shoot their age, or better.

Arnold Palmer did that in the third round of the recent Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in Palm Springs when he shot 71. Now that’s golfing — good for Arnie.

Palmer’s round was the first time anybody on the regular PGA Tour had shot his age in 22 years, Sam Snead reportedly being the last to accomplish the impressive feat. Palmer had started the tournament with an 81, so he was understandably pleased with the 71. His fine play should provide encouragement for all golfers, young and old.

"I was very aware that I was going to be somewhere around my age," Palmer said, when he was playing the last few holes. "And I wanted to do it, obviously."

Palmer was electric

That was hardly the first time Palmer had shot his age. He’s hit the number, or lower, in casual rounds just about every year since he was 65. The last time he did it in a tourment was in Seattle during a Senior PGA Tour event, when he shot a 66 on his 66th birthday. That’s taking the concept of shooting one’s age even further — like giving oneself quite a birthday present.

Palmer electrified the crowds that third round at the Hope. After all, there’s nobody bigger in golf, not even Tiger Woods. Palmer bridges all age groups. Kids and their grandparents ask him for autographs. He’s always been good to the crowds and they’ve been good to him.

"The major reason I’m here is because of the galleries and the support that they have given me over the years," Palmer said after shooting his age. "If I’m making a contribution to the tournament and enhancing it a little bit, I enjoy it very much. If I keep shooting 81s, I’m not going to be here very much longer. But if I shoot 71, I might play a little bit more."

Palmer’s feat brings to mind other golfers who have shot their ages, and continue to do so. Nick Weslock, the four-time Canadian Amateur winner from Burlington, Ontario, is 84 and shoots his age regularly. He’s had his hips replaced five times but still plays to a four or five handicap. I visited with him recently in Titusville, Florida and watched as he hit a few balls. The swing is still there.

Weslock plays most afternoons with his great friend, Canadian golf legend Moe Norman.

Moe, as he is called, has also shot his age. He’s the same age as Palmer, and watching Pipeline Moe firing shots on direct lines at the Royal Oak club in Titusville explains why many people still consider him the best ball-striker in the game.

Only the weather stops Ed

Moe also happens to know one of the greatest age-shooters in the game. That’s Ed Ervasti, the London, Ontario resident is a wonder at 86. "If I play 300 times a year I break my age 299 times," Ervasti told me.

"And that one time I didn’t it was probably terrible weather." Ervasti still walks the course most of the time, and can be found at the Turtle Creek club in Tequesta, Florida during the winter.

When he has an hour to catch a flight he walks the hallways in the airport, the better to stay in shape. Ervasti also has one of the deadliest short games I’ve seen. Just ask Moe Norman about it. "That short game. Oh my, what he can do around the greens with the putter. Ed honestly believes if he misses a putt less than six feet the hole must have moved. He’s read it right and made the right stroke, so how could it miss?"

Ervasti’s short game and accuracy with his driver have kept him in the game for decades. He played three U.S. Opens and won the 1949 Michigan Amateur. Now he’s shooting his age, and is usually seven or eight shots lower.

For these fellows, scoring is a knack that they haven’t lost. Sure, they’d love to hit the ball a long way with the driver. But their real art is in getting the ball into the hole. They’ve perfected the art of turning three shots into two. Watch Palmer, Weslock, Norman and Ervasti and you’ll see golfers who are never out of a hole. Par is always a possibility, even when they don’t hit greens in regulation. That’s because they know how to get up and down for their pars.

"My goals are to continue to do what I’ve been doing all my life," Palmer said after shooting his age. "I enjoy playing golf. My goals are to continue to try to play good golf, and I get very encouraged from time to time."

Shooting one’s age is definitely encouraging. Palmer, in doing so again, has demonstrated that there’s no reason to give up on his goals in golf. That familiar glint was back in his eyes during that third round at the Hope. He shot his age, and, in doing so, lit up the desert with his charisma.