Historically the prime of a golfer’s career was considered to be between the ages of 30-40.
Back in 1986, Nicklaus’ win at the Masters at the age of 46 was considered one of the most amazing achievements in the history of the game.
Jump ahead twenty-two years to 2008 and at the age of 45, Vijay Singh has won three tournaments, won the FedEx Cup, finished first on the PGA Tour’s money list and is currently the 3rd ranked player in the world.
In 2008, Vijay averaged nearly 300 yards off the tee, which ranked 25th on tour, and hit more than 68% of greens in regulation, which ranked 10th on tour.
Singh has won an incredible 22 PGA Tour events since turning 40 years old.
At the age of 48, Kenny Perry has had the best year of his entire career.
In 2008, Perry had 3 wins, 7 top-10 finishes, averaged 297 yards off the tee and earned more than $4.6 million.
The game of golf has indeed changed dramatically over the past decade.
The PGA Tour no longer consists of overweight, out-of-shape men that could be mistaken for your local banker rather than one of the best golfers on the planet.
The likes of Tiger Woods and Camilo Villegas could now be mistaken for sleek NFL defensive backs.
Physical fitness has become a vital part of being successful on the PGA Tour and is resulting in players hitting the ball further, getting out of the thick rough easier, and playing at a very high level well into their 40s, and in some cases, into their early 50s.
Physical fitness has changed the way the game is being played and is also playing a large role in the current level of parity we are seeing on the PGA Tour.
Now a day, players in their late 40s such as Vijay Singh or Kenny Perry can compete with those in their 20s and 30s week in and week out.
That certainly was not the case in the days of Hogan, Palmer, Player and Nicklaus. In those days a player in his early 40s was considered a dinisour.
In essence, the prime of a golfer’s career has expanded by 5-10 years which is resulting in many players still competing well into their 40s thus presenting the tour with an overall larger number of players that can legitimately win on any given week.
The game’s ‘Fitness Era’ is not only changing the face and competitive balance of the PGA Tour, it is also beginning to impact the record books.
Tiger Woods is currently 32 years old. Had Woods been playing before the ‘Fitness Era’ he would have realistically had another 8 years to win 4 more majors to tie Nicklaus’ record of 18 career major wins and 5 more to surpass him. Five majors in eight years is a far more difficult feat than the one Woods will likely face.
Barring any recurring issues with Woods’ surgically repaired left knee, a player as physically fit as Woods could still dominate the tour into his mid-40s and still be very competitive into his late 40s. It is not at all unrealistic to believe that Woods could still be the number one player in the world into his late 40s.
The games ‘Fitness Era’, which Woods has probably played the largest role in shaping, will likely provide Woods with an additional 5 years of his prime and an additional 8 years of playing at a high enough level to win.
5-8 more years is a significant amount of time and will almost surely result in Woods posting an absurdly high number of career major wins before he is finished.
The same holds true for the all-time career wins record book.
Tiger Woods currently has 65 PGA Tour wins and we would be kidding ourselves if we did not realistically believe Woods will surpass Nickalus’ 73 career wins and even challenge Sam Snead’s incredible 82 career wins.
Vijay Singh is currently 13th on the all time career wins list with 34 wins, 22 of which have come after the age of 40.
Had Singh played before the ‘Fitness Era’ he would be only a footnote on this list.
Even Phil Mickelson has recently jumped aboard the tour’s fitness train.
Phil has visibly altered his physical appearance this year.
Mickelson has lost some weight and developed more muscle tone than we have ever seen from the typically overweight lefty.
Throughout his career, Mickelson has never been one for physical fitness which shows just how important fitness has become that he has found it essential to undertake a fitness program with the intention of prolonging his career and giving himself more opportunities to tack on one or more majors.
At the age of 38, Mickelson is currently tied with Singh at 13th on the all-time careers wins list.
Had Mickelson been playing 30 years ago, he would be looking at a few more professional wins at best. Now, with physical fitness clearly becoming part of his routine, we can expect Mickelson to continue climbing the all-time wins list over the next 5-8 years.
The days of Ben Hogan smoking a pack of cigarettes during a round, Walter Hagan spending every spare moment hitting the bottle and Craig Stadler waddling around the fairways of Augusta National on his way to winning the Masters are over.
The days of Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh hitting 300+ yard drives in their late 40s, and players prime’s extending an additional 5-10 years are now upon us and the result will be a changing face of the PGA Tour and a complete rewriting of the record books.