Tiger Woods roars back, and Phil Mickelson wins a Tour event at the age of 47. How very apropos that these amazing events were preceded by an interview of many 40+ players at the Genesis Open earlier this year. They were all asked how they feel their bodies have changed since they turned 40, whether there are more aches and pains, and whether that has affected their ball distances in any way. Padraig Harrington, now 46, said that there have been changes, he feels aches and pains, and it takes longer to get going because he feels stiffer in the mornings. His distances, however, have stayed the same or even improved slightly, simply because he’s been concentrating on that aspect more. Does this successful golfer, who has had one neck and two knee surgeries, work more on his fitness now, or his swing? He says he’s done all the fitness stuff, so he works more on his swing these days. And in reply to a question about whether he’d be willing to share what exactly has helped him to hit the ball as far or slightly farther than he ever did, he replied, “just hit it harder.”
J.J. Henry is a Fort Worth native and has played on the PGA Tour for 18 straight years and in over 500 events. He said there’s “no question you sometimes feel older than the 25-year-old kids out here,” but, he added regarding injuries, “knock on wood I’ve never been out for an extended period of time.”
Of course, he said, all the slightly older players probably have days when their backs feel tight or their wrists or elbows hurt. He has not lost distance, but the problem is others are hitting it way past what he ever has. He is another 40+ golfer who feels his driving averages may even have gone up slightly in the past 10 years, based on technology and being able to max out on spin and loft. Of course, he, said, it goes farther for everyone else too! He still feels he can be competitive every week because of the knowledge gained from years of experience and knowing what it takes.
Jim Herman came late to the PGA Tour, after many years on the Web.com and other Tours. He has only played on the main Tour for seven years. He thinks perhaps at this age you focus more on the aches and pains than the younger guys might, hit the Advil a little bit more, go to the fitness trailer often and stretch regularly too.
He tries to practice on specific things more now, rather than doing a heavy practice schedule. Herman tries to make up in accuracy what he may not have in distance compared to many on the Tour, admitting that he was never the longest hitter in the world to start with. He also will try not to make too many swing changes because he cannot spend time or the reps required to do that, but would consider equipment changes if they proved suitable.
Greg Chalmers from Australia says yes he does have aches and pains, and yes he has lost distance. That, however, is mainly because he has had procedures to his lumbar spine. He also feels that might detract from his overall practice, as he cannot practice as much, especially his putting, because too much bending over is painful.
So, what does science tell us about aging and golf and the lesson recreational golfers can take away from the pros? Firstly that injury risk factors increase with the repetition of movements made at high speeds, which, naturally affects professional golfers more than weekend warriors. Back, wrist and elbow injuries are the most common, just as one of the professionals stated. Perhaps bending over less for the full swing and for putting might be better for the back, while taking less divots or not hitting the ball “fat” would be better for the wrists.
As humans age, whether they are golfers or not, there will be a reduction in muscle strength, neurological changes that then affect the muscles, bone mineral loss, connective tissue (mainly collagen) reduction and cartilage damage which can result in osteoarthritis. Some of these changes are not reversible, but many are, with a good, and regular, fitness routine that includes flexibility and balance training as well as strength and endurance. So get to it golfers, keep those joints moving!
Kiran Kanwar is the developer of The Minimalist Golf Swing System -100% scientific, simple and specific. She has BS degrees in physics and math); MS degrees in sports science and nutrition; and is pursuing a PhD in biomechanics. She is a Class A Member: the LPGA, The NGA of India, The PGA of India. Visit her website: www.mgs.golf