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Turning back the clock

The 10 best ‘old-man’ seasons in PGA Tour history

April 19, 2021
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Win once as a 47-year-old and you’re a nice, heartwarming story to brighten up the fall season. Win twice as a 47-year-old and all the sudden you’re in rarified air.

With his cruise to victory at the RBC Heritage, Stewart Cink became just the fourth player since 1960 to be 47 or older and win multiple times in a PGA Tour season. The late-career flourish—complete with the intriguing subplot of his son, Reagan, being on the bag—comes after an 11-plus year winning drought that made it seem all but certain that the 2009 Open Championship, when he broke Tom Watson’s and the rest of the sporting public’s heart, would be his last victory. Instead, Cink has added a seventh and eighth tour titles and re-entered the top 50 in the World Ranking for the first since January 2011.

One of golf’s grandest traditions is the longevity of careers; while a football or basketball career rarely lasts past 35, golfers are often competitive well into their 40s. But still, there’s usually a steep drop-off once a player moves toward the big five-oh. Only five men have won major championships after their 45th birthday, underscoring the difficulty of remaining ultra-competitive as PGA Tour Champions-eligibility looms.

Inspired by Cink’s fantastic run, here are the 10 best PGA Tour seasons by a player 45 or older. And, because this is merely a celebration of late-career magic and not a ranking, they are listed in chronological order.

Sam Snead, 1957

Snead was born within months of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson in 1912, and while the other two players arguably had better peaks, Slammin’ Sammy had the longevity. Snead won his first PGA Tour event in 1936 and his 82nd/last in 1965, and he racked up 18 victories after turning 40—that’s second all time to a man we’ll discuss in a minute.

After turning 45 on May 27, 1957, Snead won his next start at the Palm Beach Round Robin, a now-defunct event that featured a very strange scoring system. He followed that up with three straight top-10s in the U.S. Open, the Western Open and the PGA Championship, added two more runner-ups at the World Championship of Golf and the Miller High Life Open. The highlight of the year came in his last start at the Dallas Open Invitational, where he shot 11-under 60 in the second round—then the lowest-recorded score in tour history—and shot 20 under par to cruise to victory.

In total, for a season that featured two wins and three runner-ups, he earned a grand total of $28,261.

• • •

Sam Snead, 1960

Slammin’ Sammy was back at it 1960, winning twice before May 1—at the De Soto Open Invitational and the Greater Greensboro Open. It was Snead’s seventh victory in Greensboro but not his last (that would come five years later), just before his 53rd birthday. It seems only fitting, given his remarkable 40-plus record, that Snead still holds the record as the oldest winner in tour history.

Snead played 11 times during the 1960 season—when Arnold Palmer was at the top of his game, winning eight times that year—and the 47/48-year-old Snead finished in the top 25 in all 11 starts. In addition to the two victories, he posted a runner-up at the West Palm Beach Open Invitational and a T-3 at the PGA Championship.

• • •

Julius Boros, 1968

PGA of America

Boros’ victory at the 1968 PGA Championship remains the gold standard for old-guy performances in golf history, as the 48-year-old became (and remains) the oldest player to win a major championship. Played at the since-closed Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio—in the middle of July!—Boros fended off oppressive heat and Arnold Palmer to win by a single stroke.

Boros continued the hot play (pun intended) throughout the summer, taking fourth in each of his next two starts (Jack Nicklaus won both of those events). And then, Boros won the prestigious Westchester Classic by one shot, with Nicklaus finishing tied for second. That marked the 18th and last final tour victory in Boros’ Hall of Famer career.

• • •

Jack Nicklaus, 1986

Augusta National

Nicklaus ’86 was always going to be on this list. When you win the Masters as a 46-year-old, in the manner he did, with his son on the bag, to bring your major championship count to 18—well, you’re simply a lock.

That victory truly came from nowhere. In his seven starts prior to that magical week at Augusta, Nicklaus’s best finish was a T-39. He missed the cut in his last start before the Masters and withdrew from the one before that. But Nicklaus found some magic that week and kept it going for the rest of the year, finishing T-5 at the Memorial, T-8 at the U.S. Open and T-9 in the World Series of Golf. Those were nice finishes, for sure—but again, let’s be real: The reason he is on this list is because of that back-nine 30 at Augusta. And that’s more than OK.

• • •

Hale Irwin, 1990

Bettmann

Irwin turned 45 on June 3, 1990—the Sunday of the Kemper Open. He shot 69 that day to finish tied for third. Two weeks later, he won his third U.S. Open in a playoff over Mike Donald at Medinah. Seven days after that, he won the Buick Classic, before nearly pulling off the Buick Double a month later when he finished T-2 at the Buick Open.

It was a sign of late-career brilliance to come. In 1994, a few months after winning the RBC Heritage as a 48-year-old, Irwin became the first playing captain in Presidents Cup history. He would then go on to become one of the greatest players in PGA Tour Champions history; his 45 wins on the senior circuit are the most all time—although Bernhard Langer is at 41 and could well surpass him—and he also won seven senior majors.

• • •

Vijay Singh, 2008

Singh is perhaps the poster child for late bloomers, with 22 of his 34 PGA Tour victories coming after his 40th birthday. That’s the most for a 40-plus-year-old player, and he made quite a push after turning 45 in May 2008. Singh won the WGC-Bridgestone that August and a month later won the first two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs en route to the FedEx Cup title.

With his three victories and the FedEx Cup honors, Singh made more than $16 million in on-course earnings that season. Nothing like filling out the career earnings—Singh is fifth all time—when you’re closer to 50 than 40.

• • •

Kenny Perry, 2008

Ross Kinnaird

With 14 career victories, Perry has one of the best records for a player who never won a major championship. Five of those wins came after his 45th birthday, and three of those came during his age-47 season in 2008—which, when you include Vijay, was an all-timer for the old guys.

Perry finished runner-up at the AT&T Classic in March before winning the Memorial, the Buick Open and the John Deere Classic that summer. He began the year ranked No. 95 in the World Ranking and finished it inside the top 20, qualified for the Ryder Cup and went 2-1-1 as the U.S. romped at Valhalla. And he wasn’t done yet …

• • •

Kenny Perry, 2009

Unfortunately, it’s a year that’ll be remembered for what was not more than what was. Perry held the 54-hole lead at the Masters and led by two with two holes to play, in prime position to become the oldest winner in tournament history. He went on to bogey the final two holes and lost the playoff to Angel Cabrera.

On the flip side, Perry won twice that year—the FBR Open and the Travelers Championship. The win at TPC River Highlands saw him rise to a career-high No. 4 in the World Ranking, proving that a 48-year-old man can absolutely, positively hang with the young guys. It would, however, prove to be the last victory of his career.

• • •

Phil Mickelson, 2015-16

Warren Little/R&A

It’s the only season on this list without a victory. And, like Perry, the enduring memory from the year for Mickelson is one of heartbreak. Lefty shot 17 under par at Royal Troon in the Open Championship, including a final-round 65, and finished 11 shots clear of third place. The only problem—Henrik Stenson shot 63 in that final round playing in the same pairing and finished 14 clear of third place, good for a three-shot victory. Mickelson has said it was the only time in his career where he played close to his best golf and did not leave with the trophy.

It was one of three runner-up finishes he had that year, joining the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the FedEx St. Jude Classic. He also played on the Ryder Cup team, still the most recent U.S. side to win the Cup, going 2-1-1 in a 17-11 victory at Hazeltine.

• • •

Stewart Cink, 2020-21

Sam Greenwood

Cink had faded from the golf world’s consciousness since his bittersweet British Open in 2009. But after adding 15-20 yards of driving distance and hiring his son as his caddie, the Georgia Tech grad turned back the clock with a win at the first event of the season, the Safeway Open in Napa last September. The strong fall play continued with a T-4 at the Bermuda Championship, and his T-12 at the Masters a few weeks back was just a sign of what was to come.

Cink opened with 63-63 at the RBC Heritage, shattering the 36-hole tournament record, and his 69-70 over the weekend was good for a comfortable four-shot victory. He joins a man 20 years his junior, Bryson DeChambeau, as the only players with multiple wins on this season. And it’s only April. What a player, what a sport.