Is Age Just a State of Mind?
By joe jones on 9/18/13

When it comes to golf, the answer is maybe so, maybe not.

64 years -- that's how long I have been playing golf. To say I have seen changes to the game over that time is perhaps one of the biggest understatements of all time.

Just think -- when I started, TV was in its infancy. There were little or few golf instructional books available to the general public. Most of us learned by observing better players and copying our favorite. It has been said that the two hardest things about golf are:
  1. Recognizing what you are doing wrong.

  2. Having the ability to know what to do to correct the problem.
There were no swing gurus (thank God). If you had a friend that was a better player than you, you might get a few tips that could help you understand the game a bit better.

I was told from the beginning to hit the ball hard. Being a big strong guy, that's what I did. I played what I lovingly called a power fade but in reality it was just a huge slice. The thing was I could repeat it with a pretty good degree of success. I would aim it down the left tree line, it would go out about 250 yards, make a right turn and come down between the middle and the right rough at the 275 yard mark. I was considered to be a bomber in those days. Players with good swings looked at me and thought boy this guy is no threat. I really enjoyed collecting all of the money afterwards.

When I was playing my best I played with a set of McGregor MT's. The McGregor persimmon driver was one of the premier clubs of the day and much cherished by "players". The irons were like scalpels. Thin top line, tiny sweet spot. When you hit them pure they were remarkable. When you hit them off center the shock would rattle your teeth. I had a membership at a great Donald Ross club in those days. The greens were like putting on a marble table top. I used an original 1964 Wilson 8802 putter that somehow got away from me along the way. I wish I still had that precious club (oh well!). I was a good to great putter until I got the yips in 1969 and resorted to putting side saddle. It saved my sanity and my golf life but that's another story.

Developing swing problems in golf is like having an insidious little animal nibbling away at your toes. In the beginning you tend to ignore it but pretty soon you find your leg is gone. That is why even the greats have an outside observer to tell them what they see.

Getting older is very much the same story. I first noticed that I was losing distance when I turned 60. I played a course that I hadn't played in years. The first hole had a trap on the right side of the hole that I always carried to get position for my approach. I flushed a drive and it rolled into the trap. I was playing alone so I hit two more drives with the same result. I thought boy that's curious, and went on. I think that was the beginning of when I became a better player. I had to learn that it took more than brute strength to play this wonderful game.

When I turned 65 I moved to Las Vegas. I was a player assistant and was able to play as much golf as I wanted. I was still playing to a 5 handicap and was averaging about 255 off the tee but strange things started to happen. In a time span of 2 years I had a replacement knee operation, rotator cuff surgery, spinal fusion surgery and reconstruction surgery on my right hip. I also had prostate cancer which was cured. Each surgery and recovery period changed my swing and made me lose distance. I have always been "wound tight" with little flexibility so these operations that improved my general life style did little to help my golf game except it allowed me to keep on playing.

Now I had a very hard time getting a full turn and the follow through got shorter and shorter.

It has been said that you can never master golf you can only play it. With that in mind I would like to offer some advice to those who have yet to realize that they are getting older. Age forces everyone to make the necessary adjustments that will allow them to continue to play the game but more importantly allow them to enjoy it as much as possible.
  • Learn to accept your limitations. Enjoy the game for what it is and not what it used to be. Smell the roses. You are walking on the correct side of the grass and it doesn't get much better than that.

  • Use golf course management skills to your advantage. Play away from trouble. Avoid hazards as much as possible. Play to bail out areas rather than challenge a tough shot. Use better judgement on when you try a career shot. Eliminate big numbers.

  • Don't over think your game. Accept some of your shortcomings and concentrate on what you do well. Practice and sharpen your short game skills. Develop a few swing thought keys that you can fall back on when things are not going well.

  • Lessen the stress on your body by using a more languid swing. Concentrate on rhythm more than swing speed. You will gain more distance and accuracy by hitting the sweet pot. Loosen your grip. A tight grip will rob you of more distance than you realize and will reduce the pain in your hands if you have arthritis problems.

  • Use the proper equipment. Increase loft on your driver. Most older players still think they can play a 9° driver. Use 11° instead.

  • Play with the proper flex shaft. A 75 mph swing speed requires a senior flex shaft. Play the proper ball compression. Slower swings cannot compress a hard ball.

  • Eliminate long irons and go to hybrids instead. They are much easier to hit. Use medium large or oversize grips. It will reduce the pain of arthritis. Use a long or belly putter. USGA and R&A be damned. It will allow you to practice more if you have back problems. Use a ball pickup device for the same reason.

  • Play it forward. Put your ego aside. Play the tees that at least give you a chance to get on in regulation. Consider this. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer now play from the shorter tees. If it's good enough for them it should be good enough for you.
I will close with one of my favorite stories as written by the writer Guy Yokum.

Here is what I want it to be like at the end. I am 150 years old and trudging onto the 18th green. I'm the only player on the course. It's cold, raining hard and getting dark. A group of people are looking out from a large window at the clubhouse, marveling that anyone would be playing in those conditions. One guy nudges another and say's "You see that old man?" The fellow answers, "Yeah, what about him?" The first guy says, "Don't bet him any money."

This was written by Joseph Jones, a reader/follower/fellow oober and the opinions are 100% his and do not reflect those of oobgolf in anyway. Enjoy! I'm sure he's ready for your feedback.

Have an idea for a guest column? Send it here!

Image via Flickr, Evan Wilson

[ comments ]
birdieXris says:
great read. I think the last bit is what i want my future to be as well.
bducharm says:
Youth is wasted on the young! I have played my best golf after the age of 45 (I am 54 now).
jasonfish11 says:
Very good read. I think its interesting you were averaging 250+ with a percimmon driver. That seems like it is a huge shot with those clubs. I'm curious what that would equate to given today's technology.

When I play now I'm frequently the longest hitter in my group and I average about 250-260 off the tee. Although the guy I consistantly hit it 20 yards by will tell you he hits the ball 250 also lol.
jasonfish11 says:
Quick question. Some of the advice in here I'm not sure if you recomend it for everyone or just the older golfers. For example.

"Use medium large or oversize grips."

I have no knowledge of what oversized grips do for a normal golfers (10-20 handicap) game. Is this something you'd recomend for everyone?
slimpks1850 says:
Thanks joe jones - GREAT write up.
joe jones says:
Jason. The average drive on the tour in those days was about 265 yards. Nicklaus was the pre eminent bomber and could hit 300 yard drives all day. That left him about 15% reserve if he needed it. Length is important only too how far you can hit the ball past your closest competitor. Thats one of the reasons he was so intimidating.As to the oversize grips there are plus and minus factors. If you have large hands as I do and arthritis they can help. However there is a theory that they restrict the ability to cock your wrists for maximum distance. I have a nephew that is 6'6" 250#. He uses a double x wrap on his grips and can consistantly hit his driver 320 yards.It's purely a matter of what works for you.
joe jones says:
I forgot to add that my driver had a D2 swing weight and I played with a 2X stiff shaft. Today I couldn't pick that damn thing up.
GBogey says:
@Jason - on School of Golf in the last 2 weeks, they said that studies show that comparing hits the sweet spot, persimmon drivers were only 7 yards shorter than today's drivers. The big difference in distances is on hits away from the sweet spot. I think it also speaks, maybe Joe can comment, to the increases in distance being more related to the ball and not the club (although I think on tour there are other technical and athletic factors as well).
GBogey says:
Since we are talking seniors:
A senior gentleman moves to a new town and joins the local golfing club. But when he went to the Club for the first time to play he was told there wasn't anybody he could play with because they were all out on the course. Seeing his disappointment, the assistant pro came over and offered to play with him providing they had a small wager and asked how many strokes he wanted.

"I don’t need any strokes as I’m really not that bad," the senior replied. "The only real problem I have is getting out of sand traps."

The assistant pro decided to try him out. It turned out he did play well, and coming to the par four 18th they were even.
GBogey says:
The pro had a nice drive and was able to get on the green safely where he had 2-putts for par. The senior had a nice drive also, but his approach shot landed in a sand trap next to the green.

“I have him now,” thought the pro, and being away, he nicely lagged to 2 feet for par.

Playing from the sand trap, the senior hit a high ball which landed on the green... and rolled right into the hole! It was a Birdie and he won the game.

The pro walked over to the sand trap where the senior was still standing.

"Nice shot" he said, "but I thought you said you have a problem getting out of sand traps?"

"I do. Could you please give me a hand?" he asked.
joe jones says:
GBogey. Great story. I will enjoy sharing it with my senior friends.As far as the distance difference between Persimmon and Metal I remember it being a lot more than 7 yards. You are right about the relevance of the ball today and during my time. Most golfers used a Titleist DT 100 wound ball because it would fly further when hit properly. However even a slight thin hit would cut it in half. The cover was so thin that big hitters could hit it flush about 5 times and it would separate from the core and go out of round. Players carried a ball ring so they could show an official that it was unplayable so they could take it out of play. Today's players are far more athletic than in years past. Gary Player was one of the few fitness nuts in those days. Being of small stature it helped him.
jpjeffery says:
Ba-dom. Tish!
Matt McGee says:
Great article, Joe. I'll have to see if I can find those recent episodes of School of Golf. I have a persimmon driver in my garage that came from my father-in-law. It's very similar to one I had years ago. I was amazed to find that I can hit the ball almost as far with it as I can my R11. The ball has changed, for sure. Back then, I was playing DT90, DT100, and Titleist balatas, depending on the time frame and my pocketbook. The balatas were the really expensive ones. One shot a little thin, and they'd split from one side to the other.
joe jones says:
When one of us would skull a Balata the standing joke was it looked like a smile or a frown dependent upon the way you turned the ball. Your right. They were the most expensive ball on the market but we payed the premium. Has anything really changed in respect to our spending habits in golf.The really,really good balls still cost the most.One of the things I enjoy about being a short hitter. Ball technology doesn't add much to my distance. Therefore I can buy cheaper lower compression balls. Also. I don't hit the ball far enough to reach some of the hazards I used to challenge.
Matt F says:
Joe, I think your tips could be used for everyone, not just Seniors.

Learn to accept your limitations.
Use golf course management skills to your advantage.
Don't over think your game.
Use the proper equipment.
Play with the proper flex shaft.
Eliminate long irons and go to hybrids instead.
Play it forward. Put your ego aside.

This should be printed out and given to every person learning the game and revisited annually.
joe jones says:
There are a number of points that I left out of my column and I would like to share them now.
I mentioned a lack of flexibility but there are other factors that cause a lack of distance.
I try to concentrate on loading my left side on the back swing but a partially fused left knee doesn't allow me to have a full release. I have always kept my left foot flat on the ground but if you watch Jack Nicklaus you will see that he lifts his left heel off the ground and literally slams it to the ground on the down swing. That allowed him to create a severe X factor with a wide shoulder turn and a swing over paralell
joe jones says:
I have found that I gain distance by slightly raising my heel. I also have arthritic problems in my hands so cocking my wrists is difficult. On the practice range I start my swing back about 10 inches from the ball, cock my wrist as much as I comfortably can and complete my takeaway.Then when I play, the idea of loading my wrists is more natural. Having a loosey,goosey grip helps with the whole procedure. Mind you, these are a work in progress and seem to be helping. There is nothing worse in golf than feeling that you can do certain things to help yourself. Use your limited practice time to improve. 15 minutes of hitting my driver before a round helps me go to the tee with more confidence.
larrynjr says:
I played with my dad and brother this past summer for the first time in 3 years. One of the courses we played had forward yellow tees and the first nine, dad played from those, until he made eagle on one of the par 4's........we made him move back to the reds after that!
joe jones says:
Thats cruel. Talking about being an Indian giver. I hope your Dad collected all of the skins.
Kiwihacker says:
Thank you Joseph.

Those jokes remind me one thing I learned on weekly club days was beware of old dudes with a 2 iron and 3x wedges sporting 'average handicaps'.

That said, playing with my old man is great fun. He's built like a SH and although he dislikes woods, can still wallop the crap out of a 2/3 iron (in his mid 60s). We don't get pent up about our crappy shots and just play honest golf for company and fun; no gimme putts, no clean and place, no mulligans.

I bought him a 21 degree hybrid recently as a get out of jail card, but it might take a while to get any bag time.

Good stuff.
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