Golf Digest editors picks

10 Rules From Mark Calcavecchia

Advice for outsmarting the young guys

November 2008

1. Don't fear the paunch
I'm 48 and weigh about 240 pounds. That's 25 pounds heavier than I was at 25, and believe me, it's no fun looking in the mirror with my shirt off. But the extra weight around my middle hasn't hurt my golf swing at all. In fact, it might be an advantage, because when I get to the top of my backswing, I don't have to consciously shift my weight to my left side. I just let gravity take over, and allow my weight to "fall" back to the left. It's also a plus when putting in windy conditions: I almost never get blown off balance. That happens to the skinny guys all the time.

2. Pamper your hamstrings and hips
The hamstring muscles get shorter and tighter with age, and if you don't address that, you're going to have problems. They can cause your lower back to tighten, and the next thing you know, you've got some physical issues. It can mess up your posture and even affect the way you walk. I stretch my hammies every single day. Your hips are really important, too. The right exercises to keep them in shape are all over the Internet, and you should look them up and do them. This all might sound odd coming from a guy who has had a pair of surgeries on each knee, but I'm telling you, the hamstrings and the hips are probably more important.

3. Match play is your friend
In my singles match at the '91 Ryder Cup, I led Colin Montgomerie 5 up with five holes to play. My game fell apart, and I lost the last five holes to only halve the match. Having the train leave the tracks like that is a horrible experience that happens to most golfers sooner or later. If I were in that position today, I honestly don't think I'd collapse like that.

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You'll always get nervous before and during an important round, but over time you gain perspective. You learn that in match play, a horrible hole costs you only one hole -- no big deal. You learn that pars win a lot of matches. You learn that the other guy is at least as nervous as you are, and if he's young, maybe he's never been there before. And you learn that, win or lose, it's not the end of the world.

4. Go back to good advice
Young guys seem to love beating balls. Maybe they believe they'll improve because they deserve to, based on the time they put in. Maybe they've heard too many Ben Hogan stories. I don't know. But not many young guys practice well, and it's an area where older players can get a big advantage. We all eventually discover that the same lousy swing tendencies crop up over and over. We also find out, by trial and error, what we need to do to fix ourselves. Older players should focus on recalling the swing keys that have worked for them over the years, and roll them back out. Know what you're going to work on before you go to the range, and tackle that goal with your brain as well as your body. You hear a lot of talk about "experience." Well, it doesn't apply only to the course. It goes for coming away from the range with something to show for it.

5. Distance is overrated
Last time I looked at the stats, my driving average was 283 yards. That's popcorn distance. I rank 140-something in driving, and it hurts, because I used to be pretty long. But losing yards as you get older is a fact of life, and you'll never hear me complain about it. If you find yourself thinking how much better you'd be if you hit it as far as the big hitters at your course, that negativity will hurt you. Distance is important, but you've got to convince yourself that it's overrated. You won't be far from the truth, because not many guys at the amateur level hit their pitching wedges 150 yards from the rough like the guys do out on tour, so accuracy still counts for something. Work on the areas you can control, like putting and the short game. They'll level the playing field for you.

6. Greed is a terrible thing
I'm not only talking about going at sucker pins or trying to squeeze an extra five yards out of your 7-iron instead of going with a smooth 6 -- although they both qualify. It's also attempting shots that aren't in your wheelhouse just to see if you can do it, like trying to clear a tree when you're a low-ball hitter, gambling on a flop shot from thick rough or trying insane carries over water. You know better. Golfers open the door to big mistakes with their desire to be stimulated. They get greedy for that extra little rush golf can give you when you play beyond your capabilities, get lucky and succeed. Young guys tend to be impulsive, but experienced players get their rush by signing for a low score at the end of the day.

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