Golf is forever

Golf is forever


Did you do anything significant at the age of 14? Can you imagine what sport you will be playing at age 95?
A couple of months ago, 14-year-old Andy Zhang qualified for and competed in the U.S. Open Championship at Olympic Club

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. Andy Zhang along with 21-year old Rory McIlroy missed the cut  but 17 year-old Beau Hossler actually led the championship in the second round, briefly holding the lead over Tiger Woods, who started playing golf at age 2.

What other sport can you start playing at age 3, begin competing at age 7, and compete at the highest level in the world at age 14, and then continue to play until you have one foot on the tee box and one in the grave? Golf is no doubt a great game!. You can compete as a 3 year-old or a 103 year-old, and you can compete  on any given day with anyone from novice to pro, due to the great advantage of the handicap system.

Five years ago, Elsie McLean, from Chico, California, became the oldest person ever to hit a hole in one. She used a driver on the 100-yard par 3 fourth hole at Bidwell Park Golf Course. When she knocked it in the hole for her first hole in one she was 102 years old. She was out playing golf with her friends.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: A teenage Tiger Woods cuts a relaxed pose in his early days on the USPGA & European Tour.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: A teenage Tiger Woods cuts a relaxed pose in his early days on the USPGA & European Tour.

One of the highest honors in golf is to post a score that is lower than your age. Bob Hamilton is the youngest ever to shoot his age at 59. The record in a national competition goes to Walter Morgan—playing on the U.S. PGA Champions Tour,who shot 60 when he was 61. On the US PGA Tour, Sam Snead holds the record. He fired a 67 at the Quad Cities Open when he was 67 years old and he followed it with a 66 the next day. The oldest golfer to shoot his age was 103 year old Arthur Thompson of Victoria, British Columbia.

The one to beat his age by the most strokes is Ed Ervasti, in London, Ontario, who posted a score of 72 when he was 93. And the one to do it most often is  Frank Bailey of Abilene, Texas. He has either matched or beat his age 2,623 times from age 71 until age 98, but he was surpassed by T. Edison Smith of Moorhead, Minnesota,  in 2006, and he continues on with his record.

If you really want to get better at golf, go back and take it up at a much earlier age.
    ~ Thomas Mulligan

This ageless game has been on my mind lately because last month I qualified to play on the US Senior PGA Tour, what is now called the Champions Tour. Well, I should clarify bit: I am qualified to attempt to qualify for the Champions Tour. That is, I turned 50.

This means that I have officially crossed the line from being an old young-guy to a young old-guy. I have unintentionally migrated from the category of playing golf for fun and friendly competition to the category of playing golf for health and exercise. It should be depressing, but it isn’t and it shouldn’t be.

Researchers have discovered that golfers, on average, live five years longer than non-golfers. And if your handicap is low, you are even more likely to live longer. I like to play golf, so I like my chances.

This has certainly proved true for my dad, who will be 77 this year. My dad, Bud Wicks, did not play golf through most of his adult life. Well, that’s not quite right. He played, but like most of us, he played seldom and poorly. He would play once a year in his company’s annual golf event, and he often won a memorable prize: the toilet seat. The toilet seat was awarded each year to the person who shot the worst score of the tournament. This was an actual toilet seat and each year the ‘winner’ would get his name written with finger nail polish on the toilet seat.

In fact, the winner would have to wear it like a wreath (I think you get the picture). I must add, however, that my dad perennially won the award for best dressed. But he didn’t look so good wearing the toilet seat. The incredible news is that he worked hard on his game, and as he reached retirement age, he finally won the event, the only person to have ever won both the toilet seat and the top prize.

My dad spent most of his adult life either selling industrial supplies for the timber industry, or managing such a business. When he was 61 he retired and had begun to play golf seriously and quite well.

It was when he read the great golf teacher Harvey Penick’s ‘Little Red Book’ that he was inspired to take up teaching golf in his retirement. He recalls the story of Penick(1904 – 1995), who one day was working in the golf shop and was told to rush out and see this young man named Sam Snead hit golf balls. At the time, Harvey was himself interested in playing golf professionally. But when he saw Sam Snead’s swing, and heard the crack of the club head hitting the ball (it sounded like a rifle), he realized it would be a better move to teach and coach golf rather than compete with the sharpshooters like Sam Snead.

Around that time, my dad would watch a man who was 81 years old play multiple times in a week, pulling his bag on a cart. My dad said to himself, “That’s what I want to be doing when I’m 81!”This dedicated man, and Harvey Penick’s story, encouraged my dad to pursue teaching golf in his retirement.

So the month he retired from his career in industrial supply sales, my dad traveled to Arizona where he took a course in how to become a golf teacher. He passed easily, including the playing ability test (at the age of 61, he had to shoot 81 to pass, which is precisely what he did), and went to his home course and immediately began teaching golf, mainly group-clinics.
Golf has probably kept more people sane than psychiatrists have.
~Harvey Penick

The irony of this story is that, rather than following in my dad’s footsteps, my dad followed in my footsteps. I became a golf professional when my dad was still working full-time, and after I ‘retired’ from teaching golf and was preparing to move to Africa, he took up teaching. He is proof that it is never too late to start. He now publishes a golf tip online twice a month [], and over the 16 years of teaching golf, he has some great stories to tell of golf for the ages.

One day a woman asked my dad for a lesson. After seeing her hit a few balls he asked to see her hands. He discovered that they were blistered beyond belief. He told her that he wouldn’t work with her until her hands healed. After a week she returned with healed hands, and then he got her to grip the club gently. Soon she was hitting the ball without pain. She was 90 years-old. She had such success that her 95 year-old ‘boyfriend’ was inspired to have a lesson, too. It is never too late to work on your game.

The older I get, the better I used to be.
    ~ Lee Trevino

Legendary Lee Trevino, who went from earning a few dollars by finding golf balls to help support his mother, sisters and grandfather to PGA Tour money leader at the age of 31. He was also one of golf’s flashiest showmen.

Legendary Lee Trevino, who went from earning a few dollars by finding golf balls to help support his mother, sisters and grandfather to PGA Tour money leader at the age of 31. He was also one of golf’s flashiest showmen.

Since I am now 50, I did a little research. I learned that for $200 I can enter a 72-hole pre-qualifying event with 143 other guys over 50. And if I am in the top-10 of that regional event, then I will be entered into the 72-hole qualifying event with 143 other guys from around the world who have also qualified. Then from those top-tier ‘senior’ players, the top five are exempt to play on the PGA Champions Tour for the following year, while the next seven get conditional exemptions. I begin to wonder if I have a chance.

But I think, like Harvey Penick, I would have to take just one look at major tournament winners Fred Couples or Tom Lehman hitting just one ball before I would realize that I have a better chance to become a rock star.

Instead I think I will take my extra time and, along with my dad, get my own kids fully engaged in this game of a lifetime. Noah is my youngest; he is five. He’s already hitting the ball well. Unfortunately, he won’t ever be able to break the world record for the youngest to have a hole-in-one. That belongs to Christian Carpenter. He was 4 years old.

cap: WHIZZKID: HUMBLE BEGINNINGS: A teenage Tiger Woods cuts a relaxed pose in his early days on the USPGA & European Tour.

cap: SHOW-TIME: Legendary Lee Trevino, who went from earning a few dollars by finding golf balls to help support his mother, sisters and grandfather to PGA Tour money leader at the age of 31. He was also one of golf’s flashiest showmen.

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