Age in golf arrives almost imperceptibly. One day you are standing on the tee of your favorite hole, a par 3 whose green has always been a four-iron away when the ball is hit right. Today you hit it perfectly, never better, and the ball heads straight toward the pin. But to your astonishment it falls just short of the apron. When you chip up short and miss the putt you have a bogey instead of a possible birdie or sure par.
So what are you going to do about it? You can keep right on using a four-iron, just as you did when you were 40 and 30 and 20. And you can keep right on hitting perfect shots short of the green. Or you can make a concession to age and switch to a three-iron or maybe a four-wood. After all, isn't the result more important than the means?
Keeping your golf game young, maintaining the same handicap you had 10 or 20 years ago, is not as simple as changing clubs. That's one aspect of it, sure, but not all. There are a number of things a golfer entering his senior years—let's not put a number on them—can do to keep his score from ballooning, and no one is more qualified to speak on the subject than Gene Sarazen, the first man in history to win each of the four major titles in professional golf—the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship. Gene Sarazen is now 67, but he plays golf four times a week at home on Marco Island in Florida, and every April he shows up at Augusta, still wearing knickers, ready to play in the Masters. His performances there are almost always creditable. On the following pages Sarazen tells how he does it and how you, too, can keep your game from growing old.
Fifty years ago players often stood completely square around, facing the target in the ultimate exaggeration of an open stance. Today's senior should keep this form in mind but out of his game. As he finds he can't make the proper turn or achieve the distance he once did, he tends to force himself into an open stance. To combat these symptoms of advancing age, he moves his left foot back from the line (below left), shifting his body so that it almost faces the hole. This is a mistake. It may be all right when playing the short shots, but it restricts movement on the longer ones. Instead, a closed stance is essential for a senior. He must have the right foot and the right shoulder back so that he is set for a good backswing (below right). Many a senior has the tendency to lunge into the shot, to get ahead of the ball in order to make up for his loss of strength. He uses his body more than his hands and arms, and the obvious result is, of course, the sway. The left heel is usually responsible for this. A senior often lifts the left heel off the ground to get the hands high on the backswing. But he is ignoring the fact that the older player needs support on the important left side. He has to build firmness up front so that when his hands come into the ball he has something solid to hit against. Lifting' the heel not only leads to a sway but to overswinging, closing the face and moving the head. My advice is to stay lower with the heel, keep as much of the left foot as possible (certainly the inside front edge) in contact with the ground and shift your weight, don't sway with it back onto the right foot.
Another remedy for lunging during the downswing is to play the ball farther off the left heel (below). The senior should get the ball way up there, and place himself in back of it. This will keep what strength he does have left behind the swing, not in front of it.
A good putting stroke is simply one that keeps the club face square to the hole throughout the stroke. The most important reminder for the senior is to keep this stroke short. With a short backswing and follow-through a senior has less chance of losing his squareness. To firm up my backswing and check it at the same time, I developed something called the after-50 finger (above). This combats jittery nerves and keeps the putter from wiggling on the backswing. All it involves is placing the thumb on the side of the shaft and the index finger—the after-50 finger—parallel down the club. With this alignment, the senior is forced to stop his backswing at the proper point. He can only go so far back before the finger starts bending unnaturally.
In the same manner, keeping the left elbow pointed straight out at the hole helps to keep a senior steady on the greens (below left). With the right elbow close to the body and the left elbow out, a senior's hands are forced to remain square so the putter won't turn over. The left elbow builds up an imaginary wall, and when the right hand comes into the stroke there is very little chance of swinging over the ball.
A general fault among all seniors is laziness and a tendency to relax too much on the greens while trying to shake off the jitters. In relaxing he wants to bend over as little as possible; thus he's always picking the putter up off the green. A senior must keep his club down all the way through the putt so he doesn't cut the ball or give it overspin (below right). Just figure you've got a nail on the side of the ball and your putter is a hammer. With the after-50 finger, the stiff left elbow and this carpenter's rule, seniors can chase those yips away.
When a man gets to the senior age bracket sometimes his first reaction is to cut down on his swing. This isn't necessarily the best method of maintaining your score. On the tee, for instance, instead of shortening the backswing I've always recommended saving your normal swing and your length by adding an inch to the driver (right). As I got older, I started using an inch longer driver and found I gained five to 10 yards off the tee. It enabled me to stand straight up (above right) rather than go through the sometimes painful process of all that bending (above left), and it forced my hands and arms out farther and straighter after I hit the ball. The added weight and length carried me out. Also, the longer club gave me more leverage. With the shorter club, I was stopping almost at a three-quarter swing. As a senior gets older, his backswing shortens up automatically. He has put on weight, and his hands tend to stop instead of following through. The longer driver gets a senior back and forward a little farther. When you use the longer club you have to stand farther away from the ball, and your arc becomes much larger. Remember, of course, that only the driver should be lengthened, not any of the other clubs. Out on the fairway, a longer club would cause a player to hit behind the ball most of the time. No senior wants more divots than he already has.
BURY YOUR PRIDE