By In Stuff

500 Words on Golf and Getting Old

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Here is a stubborn little fact I just noticed: No golfer my age has ever won a golf major championship. A sportswriter grows older not by the calendar but by horrifying little tidbits like this one. When I began writing, I was the same age as the college baseball and basketball players I interviewed. I would see them in class.

Without noticing, one day I became the age of established stars. Curt Schilling pitched Game 1 of the the World Series; he’s my age. I would watch Deion Sanders run; we are the same age. When they were in their prime, I was in my admittedly shabbier prime.

Then, suddenly, I was one of older people in the clubhouses and locker rooms where I did so much of my work. Some of the older players I wrote about began to retire. Cal Ripken. Joe Montana. Then, some of the younger players I wrote about began to retire too. Steffi Graf retired 16 years ago. I am older than Steffi Graf.

Some became coaches. Some became managers. It is so strange to talk to a manager you watched as a player. It is stranger still to talk to a manager you watched grow up.

The years turn sneakily and youthful dreams expire silently. I never thought much as an adult about becoming a major league second baseman or NFL wide receiver or NBA point guard, but as a kid these targets consumed me. One day I was just too old to do any of those things.

Always, though, there was golf. I don’t really play golf, didn’t play as a child, so I never dreamed of winning the Open Championship. But it was always there, a break-the-glass option if I ever felt trapped and wanted to take one last desperate stab at glory. Golfers can win forever, or anyway that’s how the myth goes. Golf would always be there for me.

Truth is, it was not really there. I’ve written often about people’s mistaken ideas about how golfers age. It is said, time and again, that Tiger Woods at age 39 has a decade or more left to win major championships. He does not. The oldest golfer to win in the last 100 major championships was Ben Crenshaw at the Masters, and he was just 43. The average age of winners over the last 40 majors is 31, and that includes an unusual run of 40-somethings who won the Open Championship three years in a row.

Still, golf cherishes its mythology. Jack Nicklaus won at 46, Tom Watson almost won at 59. And Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship to become the oldest man to win a major. Yes, golf was different then. But it happened.

Julius Boros was 48 years, 4 months and 18 days old that day he won. Today I am 48 years, 6 months and 12 days old. Might as well leave the clubs in the garage. Another dream dies.

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23 Responses to 500 Words on Golf and Getting Old

  1. BobDD says:

    Yeah, I grew up dreaming of Sophia Loren, but now she is 113 years old or so. (sigh)

  2. DavidG says:

    Thanks, Joe. I felt like I grew up reading your columns in the Kansas City Star. You’re two years younger than me. Sigh…

  3. Joe, 33 guys have won majors in their forties (I just looked it up). There hope for Tiger (and you)!

    • jposnanski says:

      Three in the last 10 years. I fear my time has passed.

    • While you are right, and certainly there is always the opportunity for an outlier to win…. i.e. Nicklaus or Watson (who didn’t actually win), who really came out of nowhere…. I place the “realistic” cap of winning at around 43. Certainly those are diminished chances at that age, but a great champion like Tiger Woods (age 39) could (potentially) win for another 3-4 years, assuming he pulls it together. Of course, it’s no guarantee that he will even play competitive golf again at this point. Honestly, since he seems healthy, I think he’ll put up some more wins before it’s all over, & a major is not out of the question. Still, nobody is putting him on the list of favorites anymore.

      Mikkelson, at 45, though still touted by the media, would have to pull essentially a “Nicklaus” to win another major. His T2 at the Masters does indicate that possibility, though not probability.

      Joe makes excellent points here. If you read the comments section over at, there are many who are convinced that winning majors all the way through the 40s is a real possibility. Almost a given. The myth of a winning aging golfer is alive and well over there.

      BTW: Zach Johnson is 39. Lee Westwood is 42. Henrik Stenson is 39. Jim Furyk is 45. Players like Sergio (35), Kuchar (37), Poulter (39) ,Adam Scott (35), Paul Casey (38), Justin Rose (34), Luke Donald (37), Bubba Watson (36) and many other familiar champions are really getting up there. There’s definitely a transition going on to younger players like Rory, Spieth, Fowler et al. I also think it will give the US a chance at the next Ryder Cup as some of the core Euro players exit their primes. Interesting to speculate. It’s kind of like watching the recent great Phillies teams age & become terrible. The switch can flip quickly on aging players. Maybe the US wins the next Ryder Cup in a blowout, and nobody sees it coming. That would be fun.

  4. John Leavy says:

    For fans, as for writers, there are milestones in getting old. Among those milestones:

    1) The first time you realize that a star player (in my case, Don Mattingly) is a little younger than you.

    2) The first time you catch yourself saying that an athlete younger than you is “over the hill.”

    3) The first time you see your favorite athletes’ SONS playing college sports.

    4) The first time you realize there are guys younger than you playing in the Old-Timers Day Game.

    • Paul Zummo says:

      Andrew Jones in the 1996 World Series was just slightly younger than I was at the time (19 years and some months). That was my first feeling kinda old moment.

    • Magic Johnson is my age & the player I related to most (still do to some extent). When he retired, it was just crazy to me. Now he looks like an old man. Yikes, that means I’m old too!!!

  5. PhilM says:

    Got to go to another classic writer here: “The crowd and the players are the same age always, but the man in the crowd is older every season.” – Rolfe Humphries

    • Another appropriate quote might be: That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age. – dazed and confused. I have to admit, that quote is a lot creepier now that I am out of high school.

      • DYT says:

        My favorite version of this quote, from “Breaking Away”:

        You know, I used to think I was a really great quarterback in high school. Still think so, too. Can’t even bring myself to light a cigarette ’cause I keep thinkin’ I gotta stay in shape. You know what really gets me, though? I mean, here I am, I gotta live in this stinkin’ town, and I gotta read in the newspapers about some hot-shot kid, new star of the college team. Every year, it’s gonna be a new one. Every year it’s never gonna be me. I’m just gonna be Mike. Twenty year-old Mike. Thirty year-old Mike. Old, mean old man Mike. These college kids out here – they’re never gonna get old or out of shape ’cause new ones come along every year. And they’re gonna keep calling us ‘Cutters’. To them, it’s just a dirty word. To me, it’s just somethin’ else I never got a chance to be.

  6. john4psu says:

    That is why we root for the older athletes. It is as if their excelling in a sport dominated by the young, makes us feel younger as a result as they are closer to our age than their competitors.

    Men like George Blanda, Jimmy Connors and George Foreman beating men considerably younger than them live on in our memories for their athletic exploits in their forties.

    If they get fountain of youth moment so can we.

    • KHAZAD says:

      That is true. It is something you can feel inside when you realize there are no more people playing competitive sports that are older than you. With me the last guy standing was Jamie Moyer, and when he came back (for half a season)in 2012 after a year’s absence, I was way too pleased to once again have a professional athlete older than I was.

      I never really counted Golf, as those guys due most of their playing on the senior tour after a certain age, but I was crushed when Watson didn’t end up closing out the British Open at 59. I could say it was just rooting for Tom (who is from KC, as am I, and I have been a fan since the 1970s) or wanting the excitement of the story, and I would be partially telling the truth. But the rest of the truth is that I wanted to see someone older than me do something great in the sports world. I wanted to have that out there as some kind of beacon until I reached 59.

  7. Andrew says:

    I’m only 52, and I sometimes watch or hear about players whose grandfathers I can remember. Never mind the arbitrary nature of “the big 5-0”; those few years between late forties and early fifties really set the generational odometer turning.

  8. steve says:

    Posnanski Age Syndrome (PSI) hit me a bit more unexpectedly. Bill Clinton was born in 1946. George W. Bush was also born in 1946. Obama, however, was born in 1961. As an Eisenhower baby myself (b. 1958), I went from being way younger than any President to being older-brother-age overnight. I have to wonder now if we will ever have a president from the ’50’s. I also wish I had the time to research if there were any other missed birth decades for US presidents.

    • DB says:

      Looks like the 1810s, 1930s and 1950s. The 1930s look done as well. Poor great depression babies. 1950s have a chance. Have to root for Jeb. Rubio and Cruz can bring us into the 70s.

  9. MikeN says:

    When you said no one your age, I thought you were going to say you are 45.

  10. Kent Morgan says:

    Last week I attended a media conference where it was announced that a university hockey team that won the Canadian championship 50 years ago would be inducted into our provincial Hall of Fame. I looked at the players who were there and told one that I felt old when I realized I had refereed most of them when they were playing minor hockey. But I felt better when I mentioned that I was still playing twice a week and knew none of them were still playing. As a friend who is still playing slo-pitch in Florida at age 90, often said, “Don’t ask me my age; watch me play.” Up until a couple of years ago, he was playing on a coed team with a couple of former major leaguers in their thirties and holding his own.

  11. James says:

    I was really sad when Jamie Moyer retired. He was the last MLB player to be older than me.

  12. belmontbill says:

    It appears that golf and baseball have similar aging curves. There have been a handful
    of players who’ve played in their mid-forties (Julio Franco, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, Omar Vizquel, Jamie Moyer, Carlton Fisk), but the vast majority are finished by their late 30’s.

  13. Gesge says:

    There are two active baseball players older than me: Latroy Hawkins and Bartolo Colon.

  14. Marc Schneider says:

    A lot of fans complain when a great player hangs on past his prime, a la Michael Jordan. But, I’m sure their feeling is this is a lot of fun and retirement is forever. It’s not as if Jordan is going to go out to the local gym and play a pickup game. Once it’s over for great athletes, it’s over for the rest of their lives (except, I guess, for the Seniors PGA Tour). It must be very depressing to be considered “old” when you are 40.

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