I am baring my soul about what happens to my golf game as I mature. I want to warn you, it is not all good and if you want to read a little upbeat inspirational guide to senior golf, don’t read on. That said, golf is still great fun if not quite as pretty as it once was.
My confessions are about my Playing Skills, my Equipment and finally my Course Management.
Plan and simple, at some point in our lives all of our golf games will decline. For the most part I think the decline for me was rather gradual and consistent, but there is a lot of evidence from the PGA Champions (Senior) Tour that something rather abruptly happens to us in our late 50s. It is a rare occurrence when someone in their late 50s wins on that tour. I also noticed a rather big change in my golf skill about this age. There may be some other milestone years that someone else will have to comment on, and I would like to hear from readers about these other milestone years so I will know what to expect.
Why would this happen in our late 50s? I personally think that my ball striking skills diminish mostly from lack of power or the combination of speed and strength. I am sure that eye hand coordination, balance, and vision take their toll on our golf games, but for most of us it is lack of power. I am also sure that working on strength, flexibility, and balance help but don’t expect that you will turn back the clock. I have been on a running and on a fitness kick the last few years, but my handicap does not know this as it keeps inching up.
In talking with Brent Norton, V.P. of the golf shop and a club fitting expert at Miles of Golf, here are his observations on golfers 55-65 that he has worked with. The vast majority of golfers that age swing 80-95 mph with their drivers. Carrying the ball over 210 yards is not common and a drive of 230 yards is about it. There are exceptions of course. Three of the better senior amateurs (55 yrs. and up) in the country are from Michigan and have been tested on the Miles of Golf TrackMan monitor. Greg Reynolds who has won the USGA Senior Amateur and finished second another year could carry a drive 250 yards in his early 60s. John Lindholm, a former Michigan Amater Champion and great senior player carries his drives 225-230 yards with monotonous consistency. Bill Zylstra, currently the best senior in Michigan and a nationally ranked senior, drives the ball 250-260 yards
Here is driver data Miles of Golf collected at the Michigan Amateur and Senior Amateur in 2010. These are numbers for some of the best amateur players in the state.
Comparison of PGA Tour, Michigan Am, and GAM Sr. Am Driver Data.
|Club Speed||Ball Speed||Smash Factor *||Launch Angle||Spin||Carry Dist.||Total Dist.|
|GAM Super Sr.||91||136||1.49||10.9||2926||203||232|
Because I am distance challenged, I have to resist doing counterproductive things in attempting to hit it further. Things like gripping it too tightly, extending my back swing beyond what my body rotation will support, and just plain trying to swing harder. It is a classic example of the phenomenon of “the harder I try the worser I gets.”
A lot of my confessions relate to the fact that I started playing as a youngster. If you on the other hand started golf late, you have the joy of getting better and this can go on for a long time as your skills improve. I am envious of you.
If only the game were driving. Ah, let’s talk about driving. Since I have played the same course a lot for about 20 years, I can with some certainly say that my driving distance has changed less than my irons distance. Unfortunately, I cannot take the credit. The ball and driver have improved so much that there is definite evidence where here, indeed, “you can buy a game.” The trajectory on drives with new balls and new drivers is so much more efficient today than even 7 or 8 years ago it scary. The correct launch and spin on drives can neutralize a pretty significant decline in ball speed. I can still hear the hissing sound of a well hit wound golf ball spinning like crazy as it fought its way through the air. I like today’s jet-like sound much better.
There is help on the way for my irons. Unfortunately, even with improvements in irons, this is where I see the most significant drop off in distance. To help me with this problem, I seem to be on a hybrid a year program, every year I take out a club and replace it with a hybrid. First I shelved my #3 iron, than #4, than my #5 wood, and last year the #5 iron departed never to be seen again. I am not quite sure why hybrids work so much better than long irons as club head speed, and therefore ball speed, decline but they clearly do for me. The ball goes much higher and carries much further than the irons I am replacing with the only downside being a slight loss in accuracy. By making these changes in equipment, I am having unbelievably better success with the 160-190 yard range that I was pitiful trying to hit irons.
As time passes, I seem to be going for more forgiving irons. I have noticed that my ball striking is less consistent. I am guessing this is from poorer eye hand co-ordination. The other thing more forgiving irons do for me is get the ball up higher which I seem to need. There are irons sets in our golf shop that bill themselves as totally hybrid sets which means that every iron head is hollow. Maybe someday, but not quite yet for me because I still seem to do better with more traditional short irons than these clubs.
Give me light ones that do not hurt. The theory calls for lighter more flexible shafts than we used in the past. I do play with lighter more flexible shafts than I did in the past but all shafts have become lighter over the last few years. We get into some really deep discussions about the importance of shafts versus heads at our golf shop. I tend to be more of a head guy. Give me a club head I like and I can find several shafts that all seem to suit me fine. The reverse does not work if I do not like a head. That said, there are clearly some shafts that work better for me than other and it is worth experimenting to find the right ones. I do play with graphite shafted woods and irons, but although graphite shafted iron are better for me, they are not all that much better.
And why can’t I play with a juiced golf ball? I am still blown away at how good all golf balls are. I could play with just about any ball on the market now and still be relatively happy. At this point in my golfing life, I play a ball with a moderate spin rate and good short game feel. Even though I am distance starved, I think it is foolish to get a ball that may go slightly further if it means I do not do as well around the green. As times passes, I will probably need a ball that spins more, and don’t give me a chance to play with a good juiced golf ball because I will take it.
Although equipment cannot completely counteract the effects of time, I am convinced equipment changes, especially hybrids, have made the game more fun for me.
I consider the null option. The first rule is should I play this course at all. Some courses are just not that enjoyable if you cannot consistently fly the ball over a bunch of forced carries. For me, if the course demands carries of 180 yards, count me out. Courses with elevated greens and bunkers that do not lend themselves to the occasional run up shot are not favorites of mine.
Design my own course. I make my own course by the tees I pick. On a short par four, I want to be able to hit a short iron; on a long par four I want to hit something other than a 3 wood. If I am playing with some big hitters, I want to be able to drive the ball to the same position on the fairway which means I need a head start. Actually to be fair about it, my tee shot should be ahead of long hitters so I can hit the same iron they hit for their second shot. I don’t hesitate playing tees different from the rest of the group. It is more fun for everyone if I do.
I did some thinking about which course length is best for me. As it turns out, if you take the total length of a good drive for you and multiple that by 28, it will give you the yardage of a course that will be a lot of fun to play, not too hard, not too easy. If you want to read the whole article on this, go to www.milesofgolf.com/blog and look for an article called “Which Tees Should You Play”.
Just as the universe expands so have distances on golf courses. Something I have been able to avoid that is a problem for many of my senior friends involves club selection. Too many of my old buddies can still remember the day when they once connected with a 7 irons that flew 175 yards. These guys will hit shot after shot after shot short because they have not adjusted to the facts of life that they cannot hit the ball as far as they once did. I am a big believer in laser range finders for many reasons, but one big reason is to truly understand how far you can carry the ball with each club. Once you know this, get real.
My need for fuel during the round has become apparent. I do notice some physical and mental changes that I need to consider. Where once it seemed that I never got tired playing golf, I notice now that late in the game sometimes I do tire. Another thing that has affected my game is poor concentration. I used to have no problem being fully focused on my game for an entire round. Now I find that I make mental mistakes and suffer from lapses of concentration I never experienced before. The only thing that seems to help me to some extent is to eat or drink a high carb bit of something late in the round that can perk me up mentally and physically.
Older bodies are not intended to work in certain weather. When we were younger, my very best golfing buddy used to say he can play in two out of these three conditions: cold, wind, and rain. If all three occur, forget it. I have had to modify this as I age. Cold trumps everything, and if it is cold, I do not play, period. I still can enjoy a round if it is windy or rainy, but when it is cold, my body refuses to move enough to enjoy playing.
My mature nerves are an improvement over the old ones. One very nice little positive thing that has happened to me is that controlling nervousness when playing is less of an issue. Playing and especially competing can be nerve racking, but I seem to have a better perspective on this than I once did. Clearly my expectations are different and maybe that has something to do with it. Unfortunately, I do not think this is a universal phenomenon because I know of other golfers my age that nervousness has become more of an issue.
Everyone who plays golf must come to grips with the fact that inevitable their skills will diminish. How you deal with it will be different from how I deal with it, but somehow things like this work out. For me, I would not miss out on an opportunity to be with some good buddies on a golf course even if I just busted one 225 (including roll).