Leonard Cohen jogged onto the stage at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto Wednesday night at 8:15 PM and didn’t leave until three and a half hours later, except for a brief intermission. He turned the ACC into a holy place. Well, sort of. That’s Leonard Cohen, still, at 78, putting on a tremendous show, full of vitality, feeling, wisdom, and wit. Amen, indeed, I think as I listen to his song of the same name on his latest album Old Ideas.
I’m glad I saw him, and for the first time, although I’ve enjoyed his music and his poetic writing for years. This morning I got to thinking about how he’s still able to perform so well at his advanced age. And, of course, I started thinking about golfers with whom I’ve played when they’ve hit the higher numbers. I’m thinking particularly about those players who could still play in their 70s and 80s.
Here’s what they have in common, in my view. They swing smoothly. Their swings are the essence of rhythm. Their swings define rhythm. I sense that their downswings are the same speed as their backswings. That’s not age, either. It’s the way they always swung the club. The rhythm and tempo of their swings hide the speed with which they come through the ball, when they’re young or when they’re older, and still getting some good speed at, or, through, the ball.
Sam Snead, who died in 2002, certainly comes to mind. I played with him in May 1991, when he was a few days shy of his 79th birthday. We teed it up at the Upper Cascades course in Hot Springs, Virginia. His eyes were failing and he couldn’t follow the ball easily, but he swung easily and fluidly and his ball usually went where he wanted it to go. He was called Slammin’ Sammy Snead but to me he was Syrupy Sammy Snead and the syrup led to the slam.
Then there’s the never ceases to amaze me Marlene Streit. I’ve written about her for years and had the opportunity to play many rounds with this World Golf Hall of Famer who is 78 – hey, Leonard’s age – and who has won everything in amateur golf. I always play better when I’m with her because I soon start to absorb her SRB formula: Smoothness, rhythm and balance. She tells me that every time, and sometimes I even get it.
I think also of Nick Weslock. He won four Canadian Amateurs between 1957 and 1966 and played in four Masters; those were the days when the Canadian Amateur winner got an invitation to the Masters. I remember visiting Nick the Wedge, as he was known for his prowess with his short game, in his lovely home in Burlington, Ont. It usually took, oh, five minutes before he grabbed a club and started swinging it back and forth, effortlessly.
Weslock, who died in 2007, always took notes from the great players he met during his life in golf. These notes formed the basis of a book called Your Golf Bag Pro: Nick Weslock’s Little Black Book of Key Golf Secrets, which I helped him put together in 1985. Here’s what he wrote in a section called Final Reminders. He’d distilled his thinking down to only six reminders. I love this one, because it represents what I see in golfers getting up there in years.
“Your constant tempo and timing thought should be to swing your hands and arms at the same pace coming down as going up,” Nick wrote. “This does not automatically happen; however, the thought of an identical pace up and down produces an ideal tempo, a smooth rhythm, and your best timing.”
These aren’t old ideas, I realize, as I continue to listen to Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas. But from what I’ve seen, they can help a golfer maintain his or her game. Thanks, Leonard, for sending me this way this morning. And thanks for your memorable concert.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at email@example.com . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein