There’s been a lot of talk this season about golfers in their 20s who have been winning. Charl Schwartzel was 26 when he won the Masters.
Rory McIlroy, 22, won the U.S. Open. Keegan Bradley, 25, won the PGA Championship, and it was his first appearance in a major. Gary Woodland, 27, won his first PGA Tour event and his reputation as the strongest and longest golfer is only growing. Webb Simpson, 26, has won two of the last three PGA Tour events and leads the FedEx Cup points standings with two tournaments remaining.
But do these developments mean there’s no room for older golfers at the highest levels of the game? Hardly. Thomas Bjorn, 40, has emerged from a prolonged slump to win three times on this year’s European Tour, including the last two tournaments. Darren Clarke was just shy of his 43rd birthday when he won the Open Championship in July.
Then there’s Vijay Singh. The 48-year-old has won 38 times on the PGA Tour, but his last win was at the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship, where Mike Weir was second, five shots behind. Singh won three times that season, when he was the FedEx Cup champion, good for $10-million (U.S.).
He’s long been a ball-beater who wears out ranges.
For years Singh has posted himself on the right side of driving ranges and grooved his patented cut shot for hours and hours. Nick Price told himself he’d see if he could last longer than Singh one day. He couldn’t outlast Singh, who was still there when darkness came.
But in wearing out ranges, Singh also wore himself out. He had numerous injuries and required arthroscopic knee surgery in January of 2009. His knee problems led to his making compensations in his swing, and his game suffered. The compensations also caused him back problems.
The physical problems led Singh to Germany last month, where he took six days of therapy that included shots in his back and blood work.
This was before the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut but was pain-free. No longer was he trying to guide his swing. He tied for fourth and third in his next two tournaments.
Singh did miss the cut at the Deutsche Bank two weeks ago, but his improved play and increasing sense of comfort has him tied for 14th in the FedEx points standings. He’s in with a good chance of winning the playoff series again, and is looking forward to the resumption of play Thursday at the BMW Championship in Lemont, Ill., near Chicago.
Singh’s return to form, although not yet to winning, along with the way other golfers in their 40s have been playing, should provide a cautionary tale for anybody who wants to rule out older golfers. It’s premature, for example, to conclude that Weir is finished. The 41-year-old Canadian had surgery last month for recurring right elbow problems. He made the cut in only two of 15 tournaments this year, and had to withdraw twice. His last appearance was in July at the RBC Canadian Open in Vancouver, where he withdrew during the second round because of the elbow issue.
Weir’s been recuperating at home since his surgery. He’ll be out for some months yet, but he’s already itching to get to work. He said during a recent exchange of e-mails that he’s doing well, while trying to keep himself occupied in the absence of being able to practise.
Weir craves working on his game, and he misses that. Sure, he’ll be 42 in May, but the fact that his physical problems are only motivating him more to get back has to be a positive. Meanwhile, he need only look to Bjorn, Clarke and Singh for evidence that golfers in their 40s don’t have to be done.
It’s been said that golf is a game for anybody eight to 80. That doesn’t exclude tour pros in their 40s, does it?
ALSO FROM LORNE RUBENSTEIN:
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, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 11 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); and his latest, This Round’s on Me (2009). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein