What You Should Know About Golf & Aging

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by Bobby Hall, PGA & Bill Howard

Golf caters to the senior player more than any other sport. There is no age limit, and the handicap system allows us to participate in organized competitions for as long as we are able to play golf. However, at some point in our lives all of our golf games will decline and we will become distance challenged.

Physical Effects of Aging

Older Golfer

Whether we like it or not, we’re all getting older!! In golf, the first thing we probably notice is that we’re not hitting the golf ball as far. This creeps up on us as typically it’s a slow process.

The physical hallmarks of aging are a gradual loss of strength, endurance and, most of all, flexibility. We all suffer the consequences of wear, particularly in our joints. In the extreme, this wear results in the loss of cartilage that cushions the moving surface of our joints, i.e. osteoarthritis.

Most of us start to gain some weight. Gaining weight is a natural process because we don’t reduce our food intake and our metabolism, our ability to digest and process food slows down. We need less food to feed our body. We used to be able to eat anything we wanted after a round of golf, a few beers, a hamburger, you name it! Not so much anymore.

It is scientifically proven the body can become physically limited if steps are not taken to impede the aging process. Research studies have indicated that human body muscle mass with a sedentary lifestyle will decrease by 50% between the ages of 20 and 50. Additionally on average individuals will lose about 30% of their strength between the ages of 50 and 70. These are startling numbers and definitively point to the necessity of any golfer to be pro-active in the reversal of these aforementioned aging trends.

Flexibility is a major part of loss of distance. We lose a lot of flexibility in our hips and the hamstring muscles because we sit and watch TV for hours or sit at a desk in the office on the computer and before you know it you can’t rotate or turn away from the ball as far as you once could. The extra weight affects your swing plane. The lack of muscle affects your strength and stamina. And lesser flexibility affects your ability to rotate and turn. All this contributes to your loss of distance.

Accepting Effects of Aging
Distance is dependent on swing speed or torque and this depends on flexible, strong muscles. You need to work on your flexibility exercises along with some strength training. Introduce some golf specific flexibility exercises. You can look up some of these on the Internet. Then spend no longer than 10 or 20 minutes a day stretching in various ways. Basically, you want to improve your ability to take a full swing at the ball with a complete shoulder turn. This creates the torque you’re looking for to increase your swing speed and in the end hit the ball farther. You’ll be able to recover some of this lost distance and, by the way, probably feel stronger at the end of your round of golf.
The fact is you can’t totally overcome the effects of aging. If this was possible then you would think Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus with all their resources would still be hitting it long distances.

On the PGA Tour players seem to hit the wall at 45. Very few players win on the PGA Tour after the age of 45. On the Champions Tour the players seem to hit another wall around 58 to 60 years of age. Very few Champion Tour players win on that tour after the age of 60.

Amateurs face these same age constraints in addition to the wall you will hit around 70 years old. Each wall we encounter will cost us loss of distance and loss of coordination. Overall expect to lose 50 to 80 yards distance off your driver and 20 to 30 yards distance off of your irons.

You must eventually accept your aging and the loss of distance. You have to adjust your club choices to hit the ball pin high. How easy is this to do? Well, at first you might notice that you are no longer hitting, let’s say your 7 iron 150 yards any more. For months you will still hit the 7 iron from 150 yards even though you know you are only hitting it 145 yards. As time goes by, and you are only hitting your 7 iron 140 yards you will begin to change your attitude about how far you hit the 7 iron. For most, it takes about a 10 yard loss of distance before you actually make a conscious decision to hit more club.

The mind loves to go to the past and the future. This is certainly true with the aging golfer. When you drive is 200 yards down the middle, you are frustrated because you remember when you used to hit it 240. The key to golf at any age is to be happy in the moment. Although that is easier said than done, the reality is we only have this moment and most importantly your ball is in the place where you hit it. Accept the moment.

What can I do to Overcome Aging?

Physical Activity
Doing regular physical activities can make you feel good about yourself and it can have a number of benefits for your health. For example, it reduces the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and ‘thinning’ of the bones (osteoporosis). If you are over the age of 65 you should still aim to do the same amount of aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity as younger adults, depending on your ability. As well as this, a particular goal for older people should be, where possible, to do activities to help with flexibility and balance. This is to help reduce the risk of falls, and injury from falls. Examples of activities to help flexibility include yoga, golf, and stretching exercises. Examples of activities to help balance include dancing, T’ai Chi or keep fit classes. Special keep fit classes for older people are available in many areas and will usually include activities for flexibility and balance. The Nix Center in Fairhope has a number of exercise activities that can help you keep fit. Don’t overdo it. People often injure themselves trying to do too much.

As you continue to age, this time and effort probably will not overcome your loss of distance. However, the upside is you might just live longer. That will give you more time to spend on the golf course!

Joint Replacement Surgery
When it comes to relief of suffering, improving quality of life, and enhancing senior golf, the most effective procedure for osteoarthritis, and perhaps musculoskeletal conditions in general, is total joint replacement surgery. More than 350,000 hip replacements and 300,000 knee replacements are performed yearly in the United States. It is estimated that more than seventy percent of these procedures are performed on those 65 and older. A very common sport related question from the prospective hip or knee replacement patients is “will I be able to continue playing golf?” The answer in most cases is an unqualified yes. Your surgeon is the final authority in determining what to do and not to do after surgery.

What can I do to Increase My Distance?

Tee It Forward
To help golfers have more fun on the course and enhance their overall experience by playing from a set of tees best suited to their abilities, The PGA of America and the United States Golf Association have partnered to support “TEE IT FORWARD,” a new national initiative to be proposed for golf facilities nationwide. If the majority of your shots into the green is greater than 150 yards then you should Tee It Forward. Go to the set of tees that will allow you to be within 150 yards of the green on most of your shots into the green. You can multiply your driver distance by 28 and get the length of golf course you should enjoy playing.

Buy New Technology
Buy new technology especially if your equipment is 8 years old or older. If \you have steel shafts then try graphite shafts. If you use Stiff shafts try Regular shafts, if you use Regular shafts try senior shafts. Hey… what could it hurt? The new technology in the cupped faced irons and the trampoline effect in the woods will also help add a few yards to your shots. Additionally, the newer irons are lofted stronger than the older irons so you can hit your 9 iron like you used to hit your 8 iron.

Use a Harder/Distance Ball
Try a 2 piece Surlyn/Ionomer ball as they will typically go 5-8 yards farther than a 3 or 4 piece Urethane covered ball. That’s 10-16 yards on each hole for 2 shots. This is a quick and easy way to pick up a few yards and save a few bucks in the process.

Use Hybrids
If you are still using the 3, 4 and 5 irons then you have to try Hybrids. They are easier to hit, they go higher, and fly longer than those irons of yours. This is a must if you want more distance from these clubs. Most will be hesitant to make this change but when you do you will wish you had made the change to hybrids months earlier.

Lift Your Left Heel Off the Ground
Lift your left heel off the ground on your back swing and before you swing down with your arms plant the left heel back on the ground. Most of the great golfers in the past used this swing technique to make a bigger back swing. Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Johnny Miller, Nick Price, Laura Davies, Julie Inkster, Patty Sheehan and even today’s Bubba Watson all lifted their heel off the ground on their back swing. Tiger Woods used the new teaching method of keeping your left knee planted throughout the swing. This may have contributed to his knee problems. Just try lifting your heel on your backswing …it may make it easier for you to make a more powerful swing.

What can you do to slow the rate of aging and get some of your distance back? Physical activity such as stretching and exercising will help slow the aging effect on your body. Teeing It Forward, updating your technology, using longer balls, replacing the 3, 4 and 5 irons with hybrids, and lifting your left heel on your backswing, all will help regain some of the distance you have lost. Even if you do all these things, you will still continue to lose distance as you age. Everyone who plays golf must come to grips with the fact that their skills will eventually diminish. So accept the changes of life… work on your short game… and when you can enjoy golf with your buddies!!