There is renewed hope for the elder pro (and amateurs) after a late year resurgence on tours around the world.
Every now and then something happens in professional golf that allows us mere mortals time to draw breath and realise that the sport isn’t reserved for twenty- and early-thirtysomethings.
Granted, it’s the exception to the rule, but it does provide hope for those who might have otherwise thought their best days had passed them by.
Naturally, Tiger Woods’ first win in five years, at the Tour Championship, was the ‘comeback’ story of 2018. Somehow the legend managed to get his broken body and tortured mind together to win his 80th PGA Tour title. Whether he kicks on, aged 43, in 2019 and adds to that list, or even more incredibly, picks up a 15th career Major, is the subject of debate and time will tell. But, there is renewed hope.
We South Africans had a close-up view of another former world No 1, Lee Westwood, winning for the first time in three years when he posted a brilliant 64 to come from behind and out-shoot Louis Oosthuizen and Sergio Garcia to the Nedbank Golf Challenge trophy at Sun City. The Englishman last won in 2015, and at the age of 45 thought those triumphant moments had been consigned to history.
Across the big Atlantic pond we saw Charles Howell III win his third PGA Tour title at the age of 39 – although nearly 12 years, or 4 291 days if you want to be specific, after last picking up a title at the Nissan Open in February 2007.
‘I thought I had it in me, but I had never seen me do it to prove it to myself,’ Howell said afterwards. ‘It’s kind of like the guy who thinks he can dunk, but if you can’t dunk, you just can’t do it.’
The difficulty of winning on the PGA Tour needs to be put into perspective by noting that our own Oosthuizen has won once on the Tour – and that was the 2010 Open Championship, which ironically means that while he lives and plays in the United States, he has never won in that country.
On the women’s Tour, the picture mirrors that of the men in that the sharp end of the professional game is dominated by the millennials. However, Angela Stanford bucked the trend when she picked up the fifth and final women’s Major of the Year, the Evian Championship. It was the American’s first Major championship and it came at the age of 40.
And when Danny Willett won the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, his first title in over two years, it completed the year of the comeback. However, while we thought the Englishman, The Masters champion in 2016, had grown old before our very eyes, we needed to be jerked back to reality and realise he’s only 31.
In February Retief Goosen turns 50, as does Ernie Els in October. And they can still play the game at the highest level and compete with the kids. For the rest of us who don’t operate in the same stratosphere, at least we can go out there and win a few rands off those who are many years younger than us.
And, of course, there is the leading light of all: Gary Player who, at the age of 83, shot a 72 at Sun City in late November.
– Lemke writes a monthly column for Compleat Golfer