At What Age Are Professional Golfers Officially over the Hill?

Fred Altvater@@tolohgolfrContributor IIMay 2, 2013

59-year-old Tom Watson nearly won the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry.
59-year-old Tom Watson nearly won the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry.Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Better nutrition, physical fitness and attention to health have drastically increased the length of a professional golfer’s competitive career.

Every athlete understands that their body will only allow them to compete for a short period of time. Once an athlete reaches their 40s, the human body does not respond well to physical stress and athletic endeavors.

Golf may allow a longer career but the clock is always ticking.

Recently, Vijay Singh and Steve Stricker have continued to win on the PGA Tour well into their 40s.

Singh has won 21 PGA Tour events since turning 40 in 2003. He was 45 years old when he added the 2008 FedEx Cup to his career achievements.

Steve Stricker, 46, recently announced that he would limit his playing appearances, but has won nine tournaments since turning 40 in 2007.  

Forty-two-year-old Darren Clarke won the 2011 Open Championship and Ernie Els was also 42 when he won the Open Championship last year. Several PGA Tour players have continued to be competitive into their late 40’s and even into their early 50’s. 

Fred Couples, 53, continues to perform well at the Masters every year. With his free-flowing swing and love for Augusta National, it will surprise no one if he continues to be a factor for a few more years.

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Sam Snead began his professional golfing career in 1936 and continued to defy the aging process by winning golf tournaments during five decades. His last PGA Tour win came at age 59 in 1971, but he made the cut in the 1973 U.S. Open at age 61. Snead also finished T-3 in the 1974 PGA Championship at the age of 62.  

Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship at Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas, at the tender age of 48. He also won later that year at the Westchester Classic.

Jack Nicklaus first joined the PGA Tour in 1961 and won the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club—in Arnold Palmer’s backyard. He won his last major 24 years later at the 1986 Masters at the age of 46.

Although he posted top-10 finishes in the 1990 and 1998 Masters, he was not a factor on the PGA Tour after the 1986 Masters. He did win eight majors on the Champions Tour, however. His last came at age 56 in the 1996 Traditions.

Perhaps the greatest example of a veteran athlete turning back the clock occurred when 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly won his sixth Claret Jug in the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry. He led the oldest major championship all three rounds, and except for a missed four-foot putt on the 72nd hole, he would have beaten all of the young guys.

Gary Player is one of the honorary starters at the Masters each year. He last played in that event in 2009 at age 74, but he had made the cut at the Masters while 63 in 1998.  

Player, now 77, was a huge proponent of physical fitness throughout his career and just recently competed in the Demaret Division of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf with 72-year-old Jack Nicklaus as his partner.

Two-time Masters Champion Ben Crenshaw, now 61, holds no expectations of winning a third Green Jacket, and he is rapidly approaching a decision on whether or not to continue competing in the Masters.

Gentle Ben was never the longest off the tee, and the modern bomb-and-gouge game leaves aging short hitters in the dust. 

Modern technology has helped extend golf careers. Improved shaft and club design have helped aging professionals maintain the length necessary to compete with the young guns.

Golf balls are chosen to fit a particular golfer’s swing speed. Every law of physics is used to provide a golfer with proper spin rate, ball speed, launch angle and maximum ball flight.

Tiger Woods has brought the necessity of a fitness regimen to the PGA Tour. Players today spend time in the gym and are better all-around athletes. Improved physical conditioning helps golfers avoid injury and extend their playing careers.

Golfers like Stricker that possess a simple, low-stress swing will be able to compete well into their 50s and 60s.

Watson’s performance in the 2009 Open Championship is the exception to the rule, but even with better fitness and modern technology, players lose their ability to be competitive in their early to mid-50s.

It would be a rarity and a surprise if someone were to break the mold and win a PGA Tour event after the age of 60.

Mental toughness and physical ability diminish rapidly after the age of 50. A younger man bombing 325-yard drives and firing wedges to within birdie range has the advantage over wily veteran golfers forced to hit 7-irons.

Several Champions Tour players have continued to win on the PGA Tour after the age of 50, but it is a very rare occurrence.

There are several examples to prove the statement that professional golfers can compete well into their 40s, but it becomes a rarity after the age of 50 and never after age 60.

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