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Old folks play golf differently from the rest of us. Some play it well, and some play it poorly, but you can lower your score and deepen the game's pleasures by paying attention when the elders amble to the tee. My own education began in a recent foursome that included three artificial joints (two hips and a knee) that were bolted to the bones of three men in their 80s, and the lessons unfolded on every fairway.
LESSON 1: Art Appreciation
Old golfers frequently have an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world. After all, they've spent seven or eight decades walking around in it. Learning that the plant your ball has come to rest under is a bougainvillea may be small consolation, but it will better connect you to the golf course and, as the details accumulate, sharpen your appreciation of its design. Stop counting strokes, and give more thought to the canvas you're playing on.
LESSON 2: Fascinating Rhythm
Their swings aren't always pretty, but they're often consistent and give new meaning to the term muscle memory--they've been tutoring their neuromuscular junctions since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House. Because their testosterone is taking flight, they worship at the altar of timing and tempo. Genuflect with them, and watch your score improve.
LESSON 3: Green Keeping
Because they grew up during America's first exodus to the suburbs, these golfers love to landscape. They minister to ball marks as if they were scrapes on a granddaughter's knee. They know, from the hard-won experience of guarding their own health, that living things need looking after.
LESSON 4: Long View
You're in the presence of people who have stopped working and can still afford a tee time, which means they've more or less successfully retired. Your playing partners may not lead you to the next Google, but any elderly foursome can be full of sage advice on money, marriage and generally managing your life. Take notes.
LESSON 5: Short Take