Strategy for the older golfer

Golf is a game of constant striving for improvement.  In my almost daily visits to the local Golf Dome, I frequently walk down the hitting line and talk to golfers, primarily older golfers, and with very few exceptions when asked what they are ‘working on’,  the answers range from:  hitting it longer, hitting it straighter, hitting it more solidly, to getting more spin on the wedges.  They all have something in common, they are trying to improve some aspect of their game.

What does improvement look like for older golfers?

Distance  

Golfers are preoccupied with how far they hit the ball, especially off the tee with a driver.

There is no arguing that distance is an important aspect of the game.  In the minds of many (especially younger players) distance is the most important aspect of the game.

However, distance alone is not all you need if your goal is to lower your scores or  maintain your current scoring level.

As golfers get older, distance decreases more so for some than others.  The question then becomes, how do you maintain a level of play (your handicap) as you get older and the distance inevitably decreases?

Here are some suggestions.

Learn to hit it straighter

Let’s say for the sake of argument you are facing a long par 4, dogleg left.  For those of you who have played Bridges visualize the 6th hole.

Hole_6_15

In order to have a reasonable chance of hitting the green in regulation you will need to hit a drive either down the center or favouring the left side of the fairway just past the dogleg.  If you hit to the left you will either be in the trees or blocked out by the trees in terms of a clear shot at the green.  If you hit it to the right you may have a clear shot at the green but from 230 to 240 yards out.  If you hit it down the middle you may still have a 200 yard shot, but it is a clear shot into the green and you have a chance.

There are many situations we all face on the golf course where if we hit it straight we give ourselves a chance at par or bogey at worst, even on longer difficult holes.

Leave your approach shots in the right place

We hear this every week even on the PGA tour, ‘he (or she) missed it in the ‘right spot’.  If hitting the green in a particular situation is not realistic for you, make sure that your ‘miss’ is to a position where you set yourself up for a good approach shot.  If a green has bunkers on both sides (and you are not a great bunker player) leave your miss short, setting yourself up for a makeable chip and putt for par.  If there are severe slopes on one side of the green make sure your approach shot favours the side where there is a flat landing area.

Learn how to chip and putt

Drives and long approach shots require both distance and precision that may be a challenge for older golfers.  There is, however, no reason why the older golfer cannot learn to pitch, chip and putt like the pros.  It does not require strength and agility, it is something we can all learn.  Yet, when we watch amateurs like us practicing and getting ready to play what do we do?  We head to the driving range and hit drivers.

As our distance decreases with age our biggest return on investment (in terms of practice time) comes from improving our short game.

I’ve watched many older golfers and many who are in their early 80’s hit their drives around 200 yards down the middle, hit their approach shot just short of the green, and chip and one or 2 putt for par or bogie.  At the end of the day these players frequently shoot their age.  The reason, they are never in trouble.

Personal Experience

In October of 2006 I had an acute ascending aortic dissection while playing the 5th hole at the Wildewood Club.

Following 3 surgeries and excellent medical care I recovered and was out on the links on opening day the following year.  There was a difference however.  I had lost a tremendous amount of swing speed and 40-50 yards off the tee.

With  practice and exercise I was able to recover around 20 yards of that.  My handicap however soared and I realized I would need to learn to play a new game that was shorter and more precise.

I concentrated on my short game and within a year or so my handicap returned to its previous level and now more than 10 years later I’ve managed to maintain my handicap at the 2006 level, thanks to an improved short game.

 

An offer they could not refuse

At this time of the year, when all the competitions are concluded golfers at times need an incentive to spice up their games or just to keep their interest up.

In my case I’m now north of 110 games played for the season and unless there is something on the line my interest tends to wane and at times I suffer from lapses of concentration on the course.

Playing for something (money) no matter how small the amount can get everyone back in the game.

On the first tee this morning I made my three golf partners and offer the could not refuse.  I proposed that we play my ball against their best ball.  My handicap is 4 and they are all in the 10-12 range, and pretty solid players.  Needless to say they accepted the proposal.

Things did not start out well for me.  I bogied the first hole and lost the next two to birdies.  By the time we got to the 9th hole I was four down, so naturally I used my front nine press and was fortunate to win the 9th hole with a par to cut my front nine losses.

I played better on the back nine and managed several clutch putts to par holes for ties on the back nine.  The long and the short of it was that when we reached 18, I was two up on the back.  Now it was their opportunity to press and they did.  We tied 18 with pars so the press was a tie.

It ended up they won the front and the 18, I won the front nine press and the back nine so no money changed hands.  However, all of us were invested in the game and the outcome for all 18 holes and if was an enjoyable and challenging match.

I’m hoping we do this again.  I fully understand my odds of winning are not great but it was an enjoyable challenge.

The older golfer

As indicated in a previous post I recently participated in the Manitoba Senior Championship.

During the course of the event I played with a number of different golfers as the pairings were adjusted after every round based on scoring, so I was able to observe different players both on the course and in preparation for play.

What follows are some observations that struck me about seniors who play competitive golf:

 

  1.  The love of the game and the dedication to honing ones golf skills.  The vast majority of the participants arrived at the course well in advance of their tee times and spent significant time on the driving range, chipping area and on the putting green.
  2. How the competitive embers are fanned and come to life during a tournament.
  3. How advancements in technology have added to the enjoyment of the game for older golfers.  I overheard more than a few players talk about their new driver or new set of irons, hybrids etc. and how the new clubs have made them longer and more accurate.  Comments like “I’m hitting it longer now than when I was 40”  are common among seniors, and in many cases they are also true.
  4. Golfers willingness to use ‘aids’ to compensate for parts of the body that are simply wearing out.  I observed more than a few players adjusting their lower back supports, strap on knee braces, squeeze into elbow and wrist supports.  I observed several players (myself included) bolster their resolve by  popping  Advil and other anti inflammatory and pain killing drugs, jut to be able to compete.  As well as I walked down the line at the driving range I noticed I was not the only player emanating a strong odour of A535 and other assorted topical  treatments.

It would seem the old adage ‘golfers never die they only lose their balls’ is indeed true.