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Par for the Course

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Senior moment

Tom Watson's inspired play at the British Open reinforced the notion that golf is a game for the ages.

BY ERIC TRACYPublished: September, 2009

Tom Watson's play at the British Open inspired senior golfers throughout the Southland (PHOTO: Eddie Meeks).
If it appears golfers over the age of 50 are walking with a spring in their step, the “Tom Watson effect” might have something to do with it.

For one weekend in July, all eyes were on the 59-year-old Watson as he nearly won the British Open for a record-tying sixth time.

As an over-50 golfer myself, I watched every hole, and I wasn’t alone. Watson’s runner-up finish was an emotional weekend that I’ll never forget. 

Glen Passaretti, vice president of Fisher Putters, called Watson’s playoff loss “one of the cruelest finishes I’ve ever seen in a weekend that created a whole range of emotions for me.”

One of those emotions he experienced was inspiration.

“Watson made me feel young again and rekindled my spirit to go out and shoot low, not just play,” said Passaretti, 54, a former scratch golfer. “Tom reawakened the fact that you just can’t remain good, it takes some effort and I better work on my game.”

That attitude appears to be spreading throughout the Southland.

“I am seeing a bump in older guys on the range, grinding it out, hitting balls on their way home from work,” said Mark Peifer, the head professional at Tierra Rejada Golf Club in Moorpark. “They also seem to be more focused, more into what they are doing.”

He’s also noticed something else.

“People again are looking at the old swings, like those of Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player,” Peifer said. “If you look at the old swings and the myriad of odd swings you see on the Champions Tour, it shows that a lot of different kinds of golf swings can work. Just make the swing yours, do it confidently and be able to repeat it.”

Watson’s close call also has made some seniors puff out their chests and realize they still have a lot to offer, both on and off the course.

“Hey, I’m not dead yet,” said Perry Leslie, the 67-year-old general manager at Tierra Rejada. “People my age who are still working, still competing, still contributing to society are led by the belief that we’re just not done yet. There’s so much we can still do and still do well.”

There really are a number of good things about being AARP-eligible other than receiving discounts on movie tickets, motels and prescription drugs.

Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine recently started a senior program and the results were a pleasant surprise.

“Maybe my expectations were low, but the response to our 55/55 promotion blew me away,” said Eric Lohman, the director of golf at Oak Creek.

The program allows golfers 55 and older to play Monday through Thursday for $55.

“We now have over 500 golfers taking advantage of this program,” Lohman said.

While Watson’s inspirational charge at Turnberry provided an instant bump, the reality is that the number of low-handicap golfers over the age of 55 has been on the rise for about a decade at SCGA and USGA events.

I spoke with Mike Sweeney, director of rules and competitions for the SCGA about the SCGA Senior Championship, the Senior State Championship and the 4-Ball Championship, which constitute the big three on the annual state calendar. To compete in these events, players must have a handicap of 6 or less.

“There are about 350 golfers who will go after those titles in the senior (55 and over) and super senior (65 and over) categories,” Sweeney said, “and that number would easily double or maybe even triple if you included golfers 50 and over with handicaps that low.”

Watson’s runner-up finish did provide some comic relief. Let’s face it, there are all kinds of one-liners that describe life past
50:

• Your back goes out more than you do.
• You hear your favorite song on the    elevator.
• You know how to use hand signals when driving, and not just the one-fingered variety.

Being over the age of 50 doesn’t mean you have to play from the forward tees, but it might not hurt if you can convince some young whipper-snapper in your best take-it-easy-on-the-old-guy tone that you need all the help you can get before making a bet.

Then step to the tee and utilize your savvy and rejuvenated zest for the game to skin another guy with more distance than game.
 
Eric Tracy is also known as The Mulligan Man. He can be reached at Eric@TheMulliganMan.com.