500 Words on Golf and Getting Old

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Here is a stubborn little fact I just noticed: No golfer my age has ever won a golf major championship. A sportswriter grows older not by the calendar but by horrifying little tidbits like this one. When I began writing, I was the same age as the college baseball and basketball players I interviewed. I would see them in class.

Without noticing, one day I became the age of established stars. Curt Schilling pitched Game 1 of the the World Series; he’s my age. I would watch Deion Sanders run; we are the same age. When they were in their prime, I was in my admittedly shabbier prime.

Then, suddenly, I was one of older people in the clubhouses and locker rooms where I did so much of my work. Some of the older players I wrote about began to retire. Cal Ripken. Joe Montana. Then, some of the younger players I wrote about began to retire too. Steffi Graf retired 16 years ago. I am older than Steffi Graf.

Some became coaches. Some became managers. It is so strange to talk to a manager you watched as a player. It is stranger still to talk to a manager you watched grow up.

The years turn sneakily and youthful dreams expire silently. I never thought much as an adult about becoming a major league second baseman or NFL wide receiver or NBA point guard, but as a kid these targets consumed me. One day I was just too old to do any of those things.

Always, though, there was golf. I don’t really play golf, didn’t play as a child, so I never dreamed of winning the Open Championship. But it was always there, a break-the-glass option if I ever felt trapped and wanted to take one last desperate stab at glory. Golfers can win forever, or anyway that’s how the myth goes. Golf would always be there for me.

Truth is, it was not really there. I’ve written often about people’s mistaken ideas about how golfers age. It is said, time and again, that Tiger Woods at age 39 has a decade or more left to win major championships. He does not. The oldest golfer to win in the last 100 major championships was Ben Crenshaw at the Masters, and he was just 43. The average age of winners over the last 40 majors is 31, and that includes an unusual run of 40-somethings who won the Open Championship three years in a row.

Still, golf cherishes its mythology. Jack Nicklaus won at 46, Tom Watson almost won at 59. And Julius Boros won the 1968 PGA Championship to become the oldest man to win a major. Yes, golf was different then. But it happened.

Julius Boros was 48 years, 4 months and 18 days old that day he won. Today I am 48 years, 6 months and 12 days old. Might as well leave the clubs in the garage. Another dream dies.