Older golfers improve with age

You’re not getting older, you’re getting better. It may be one of the hoariest clichés on the planet but on planet Golf, it’s often true. That’s why there’s so much to learn from older golfers.

Take Larry Nelson, for instance. He won two PGA Championships and a U.S. Open – three majors for the quiet golfer who has been dominating the Senior PGA Tour recently. At the Royal Caribbean Classic in Key Biscayne, Florida earlier this year, Nelson said he used to play at 60 per cent of his ability but now feels he’s playing at 90 per cent.

One could argue that his potential isn’t as great as it used to be, but the key is he’s getting more out of what potential he does have. His message? Get fit, get smart.

Nelson has something else to teach: it’s possible to learn golf from a book. He didn’t start playing until the ripe old age of 21 and learned the game’s basics from Ben Hogan’s classic instructional book, Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.

The lessons have served Nelson well and are worth studying. (On a personal note, I have recently co-authored with teacher David Leadbetter The Fundamentals of Hogan, a look at Hogan’s ideas some 45 years lar.)

Trust your swing
What else can be learned from senior players? Lee Trevino advises that a golfer needs to trust his own swing while working on fundamentals such as balance and keeping the club on target through the ball. He was hitting balls so straight this past winter, you could walk a yard or two in either direction on the range and scoop up most of them.

Any golfer who has played the game for any length of time knows even the best players have different swings. Trevino hardly looks like Arnold Palmer. Nor does Gary Player’s swing resemble either Trevino’s or Palmer’s. But appearances can be deceiving. All good swings resemble one another where it counts – on impact.

Tom Watson knows this and has often said so. Watson and I once chatted at length about the swing. He swung a club to the top of his backswing. “I don’t care where you are here,” Watson said. Then he swung to the finish. “And I don’t care where you are here.”

Watson then placed his club parallel to the ground near the impact position. His hands were well ahead of the clubhead, and the shaft was on his target line. “But you’d better be HERE,” Watson said. And he meant business.

What counts is impact
He was talking about what really matters in the golf swing – the impact. Freeze-frame the swings of better players near and at impact, and you’ll find they all look alike. Backswing, follow-through -the rest is personal. But impact – well, that’s the business end of the swing.

Trevino demonstrated this on the practice range on the senior tour this winter, taking Watson’s concept a little further. He said top golfers have the wrists of their leading hand bowed at impact.

“That’s how you compress the ball,” Trevino said. Try to picture this position and to emulate it at impact. It’ll feel as if you squeezed the ball with the clubface if you do.

“Most higher-handicapped players ADD loft to the clubface at impact,” says Johnny Miller, a former U.S. and British Open champion. “Lower-handicap golfers take loft OFF the clubface.” That is, they have their hands ahead of the ball at impact rather than behind it. That’s a true golfing position. Senior pros still hit the ball a long way because they compress the golf ball.

Check club shafts
Senior tour pros also teach by example that equipment counts. Golf clubs are so technically advanced today, there’s no excuse to not have a set that fits you. Sandra Post, the Canadian who won nine times on the LPGA Tour, doesn’t compete much these days although she is working with colleagues on a senior tour for women.

Post is also on the board of directors for Jazz Golf, a Winnipeg-based company with big plans to make music in the industry. Post told CARPNews FiftyPlus that the shaft is the engine of the golf club, and that more people should pay attention to getting the right shaft.

Look into the bag of any senior tour pro. You’ll probably take note of the clubheads, but if you have the chance, ask the players about the shafts they use. Many older golfers haven’t changed their equipment in years and use shafts that are too stiff for them.

Or they haven’t been fitted for clubs. Most club manufacturers today provide a dynamic fitting program. The golfer is fitted for clubs while hitting balls. It used to be the case – and still often is – that the golfer buys clubs off the rack because they look good. But that’s like buying a pair of shoes that don’t fit.

Get the right equipment, and you’ll be on your way to better golf.