Older golfers use brain over brawn

The older we get, the shorter we get. No, I’m not referring to our height. I’m referring to how long we hit the golf ball. Let’s face it: we’re not going to hit it as long as we did five or 10 or 20 years ago. If size or length matters, we’re in trouble.

So here’s a piece of advice. Be satisfied. It might as well be written into your gene code: You won’t get longer as you get older. But don’t worry, you can still score better. Here’s how.

Improve your green game

Anybody can putt well — age doesn’t have to matter. Sure, golfers get the yips on the greens, but that also happens to young players. There’s no reason for you to be a lesser putter than you were. In fact you can improve on the greens because no part of the game allows for greater variation.

I’m not a bad example. I was never a very good putter but I wasn’t a bad putter either. For one reason or another I never felt all that comfortable over the ball on the greens. So about five years ago when I was in my mid-40s, I started doing some logical thinking. I figured that because I was a left-handed writer and because I was left-eye dominant that I should putt from the southpaw side. &t;P>

And so I changed and now I’m one happy putter. I feel more comfortable over the ball. I can see the line better and I usually hit solid putts in the middle of the clubface. Even when I miss putts — short ones too — I still feel better missing them than I did right-handed. Friends tell me my head is cockeyed over the ball and that my eyeline is all wrong. I say that I don’t care. The only thing that matters is whether the ball is going in the hole more often. I believe it is.

Long putters

Check it out fellow golfers. Check out the putting methods that older golfers use, that is. Many players have gone to the long putter, and not only seniors. Bruce Lietzke has used it for years. Vijay Singh is probably the most notable one. He won the 2000 Masters. So what if it looks strange to stick the putter up against your navel? Paul Azinger does the same thing. They care only about results, not how they look.

Consider Sam Snead. Late in his career he started to putt sidesaddle, putting the ball beside him rather than in front of him. Snead made plenty of putts that way.

Once I caddied in a PGA Tour event near Boston. Roger Maltbie, now an analyst for NBC Television, used four different putting grips — on one hole, from about 70 feet. Yes, he four-putted, but he wasn’t afraid to experiment. Putting is weird and it makes us weird. That shouldn’t bother us.

Different methods

Then there’s Mark Calcavecchia, who will change putting styles or grips from hole to hole if he’s not comfortable over the ball. Recently he’s gone to what has become known as the “claw” method of putting. That’s what it looks like too. He puts his lower hand on the putter so that it looks like a claw. Calcavecchia won the Honda Classic this past winter and had probably the best stretch of his career.

Call him Mark Clawcavecchia. Hey, it works for him. It could work for you. Putting is a free for all. Free for all to try different styles.

The Canadian pro David Morland IV has an interesting method. He points down the line of his putt when he’s over the ball, sighting it as if he’s about to shoot a rifle. Morland, a Torontonian who plays the PGA Tour, said he was misaligning by conventional means. He went to something unconventional and has been happy with it.

“Whatever works,” Mike Weir, Canada’s favourite golfer, says. “Golf’s a tough game. It doesn’t matter how you look as long as it works for you.”

Years ago a pro golfer named Leo Diegel — he won the 1924, 1925, 1928 and 1929 Canadian Opens — putted with his elbows pointing out. He looked like an eagle spreading his wings. The method was called Diegeling — arms akimbo. It worked, so he used it.

Notah Begay, a PGA Tour winner, putts right-to-left putts right-handed and left-to-right putts right-handed. I played the other day with a guy who looks at the hole and not the ball from putts inside ten feet. Some players will practice putting with their eyes closed. In fact, Mike Hulbert, another PGA Tour winner, putted in tournaments for a while with his eyes closed.

See what I mean? Anything goes in putting. You might have lost your length, but you can still make hay where the score counts — on the greens. Go for it. Have fun. If you take my advice, there’s no reason why your best putting days shouldn’t be ahead of you.