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From the archive

Play your best golf now ... and forever

Football and basketball are great sports, but when was the last time you saw a gang of 60- or 70-year-olds choose up sides for a game of horse or touch foot­ball? Those same folks, however, may compete aggressively on the golf course as they did when they were teenagers. That's the beauty of golf: The passion golfers have for the game-not to mention the social interaction it affords-plays a crucial role in extending and enhancing lives. Though golf is truly a game for a life­time, playing it well throughout one's life is not an easy task. I have seen the game through three very different sets of eyes:

► As a teenager, a collegiate com­petitor and a young professional golfer, I practiced and played all day, every day. I was in excellent condition and worked out daily in an effort to succeed on tour.

Now, as an orthopedic surgeon in my 40s, with a schedule that usually begins before dawn and ends after sun­set, I have little time to play golf and to maintain the fitness my body craves.

► And each day, in my office, I see many avid golfers, now in their golden years, with some ailment or injury that prevents them from playing the game they love-a game they had promised themselves to play more when they had the time, only to find that Father Time and the aging of their bodies were betraying that promise.

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But it does not have to be that way. There are ways to play the game in each decade of life, play it well, and to enjoy it thoroughly while doing so. It may require a little work, but like o many other things, it is enjoyable work that will pay off with huge benefits down the road—or the fairway. To start you off, take the self-test at right. While it's not meant to be taken as a definitive assessment of your cur­rent and future health (only your physician can perform that vital role), it can serve a an indicator of your prospects for a long and fruitful golf career (either that or a much-needed wake-up call). Over the pages that follow, Golf Digest Playing Editors Justin Leonard, Nick Price and Johnny Miller join other greats—from Davis Love III to Gary Player to Sam Snead—to provide swing tips and other advice to help all golfers play their best. By all means, don't restrict yourself to your particular decade. You'll see that each section contains plenty of useful information applicable to all golfers, regardless of their current age. What's more, this cover package con­tains a special edition of the monthly Pocket Tips. Golf fitness expert Don Tinder provides 12 simple stretching exercises for golfers to perform before, during and after their rounds.

So test yourself to see how you measure up, then turn the page to begin your exploration of the aging of the golfer's body. Not only will this package and its team of expert contrib­utor show you how you can play bet­ter, they'll also help you develop life kill aimed at avoiding injury and improving your overall conditioning. The goal is simple: to help you get the most out of this greatest game of all, the game of a lifetime. —Bill Mallon, M.D.

How long will you play golf?

Take the following test to gauge your current health status and other factors that T will allow you to continue to play golf as you get older. If you're not in double dig­its in the plus column, you may want to consult with your physician to get a more definitive assessment of your prospects for a long, healthy golf career.

Lifestyle

Do you smoke or live with a smoker? Smoke personally: -3 points; Live with a smoker: -1 point; Don't smoke personally and don't live or work with a smoker: +3 points.
Do you drink alcoholic beverages? As often as I can: -3 points; Frequently: -1 point; Never: 0 points; Moderately (1 to 5 drinks a week): +2 points.
Are you married? Yes: +2 points; No: 0 points.
How many days a week do you get 30 minutes of aerobic exercise? Add 1 point for each day (maximum of 3 points).
Do you walk the golf course? Yes, always: +2 points; Usually: +1 point; Never: 0 points; I didn't know walking a golf course was legal: -2 points.
Do you wear a seat belt while driving? Yes, always: +2 points; Usually:+ 1 point; Rarely: 0 points; Never: -2 points.

Current condition

How old are you? Over 50 (so far, so good): +4 points; 40-49: + 3 points; 30-39: +2 points; 20-29: +1 point; Younger than 20: 0 points.
Are you male or female? Male: 0 points (sorry, guys); Female: +2 points.
How close are you to your ideal body weight? 25+ lbs. overweight: -3 points; 15-24 lbs. overweight:-2 points; 5-14 lbs. overweight: -1 point; more than 5 lbs. under ideal weight: -1 points; within 5 lbs. of ideal weight: +1 point.
Has your golf handicap risen by more than 5 strokes in the past two years? Yes:-1 point; No: 0 points.
Can you put on your socks and shoes comfortably? Yes: +1 point; No: 0 points.
Do you have chronic back pain? Yes, and it often prevents me from playing golf: -1 point; Yes, but I can play by taking medicine: 0 points; No: +1 point.
Do you have any history of chest pain that has forced you to stop strenuous activity? Yes: -2 points; No: 0 points.
Do you know your total cholesterol level? Yes, and it's above 220: -2 points; Yes, and it's between 180 and 220: -1 point; Yes, and it's below 180: +1 point; No: 0 points.

Family history

Has anyone in your family (parents, siblings, grandparents) had cancer prior to age 50? Yes: -1 point; No: 0 points.
Has anyone in your family ever died from a heart attack? Yes, several family members: -3 points; Yes, but not several: -1 point; No: +2 points.
Has anyone in your family ever had a stroke? Yes, several family members: -2 points; Yes, but not several: -1 point; No: +1 point.
Do you have a parent or grandparent who has had Alzheimer's disease prior to age 75? Yes: -1 point, No: 0 points

Scoring Summary

+20 to +25: Expect to be shooting your age at 100.

+15 to +19: Lifetime club membership should be a good investment.

+10 to +14: Look for golden golfing years.

+5 to +9: At least you'll be playing in your senior club championship.

0 to +4: Get all your low scores early, while you can.

-1 to -5: Time to re-think your lifestyle.

-6 to -10: Time to seriously re-think your lifestyle.

-11 to -15: Get all the life insurance you can, while you can.

-16 to -20: Don't make tee times more than two weeks in advance.

-21 to -27: Have at least one physician in your next foursome.

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In your 20s

Now's the time to hone short--game skills

By Justin Leonard, age 26, Golf Digest Playing Editor

A motion for life: Quiet hands, stable body

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The key to a good short swing is minimizing the actions of your small muscles (hands and wrists) and your large muscles (body and legs). Too much wrist hinge or lateral sway will lead to both fat and thinned hots. Instead, use your medium muscles (shoulders and arms). The principle here is simple: Just swing your arms back and through, striving for solid contact. Your shoulders and arms will pull your body along, not the other way around. The fewer part that move, the greater your chance for consistent results. Solid contact enables you to control the shot so you can hit it close every time.

This is the time most golfers become serious about the game. It's also when you reach your physical peak.

The combination fits perfectly. You love to play, and the fun part of it is hitting the ball far and straight. After all, those are likely to be your strengths.

That's great, but don't lose sight of the long term. As you get older, you won't be able to hit it as hard. You'll have to rely more on your short game, and the time to develop that is now. As I grew up in Dallas, my short­game skill helped me beat bigger kids—­and that touch is helping me beat longer hitters today on tour. If my short game remains sharp, I'll still be competitive with the younger player in 20 years. It's really the key to lower cores. So learn the basics of the motion and prac­tice them. Remember, you're going to be using them for a long time.

Drill: Hit until you make them all

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This is a drill that's hard, but it will teach you to hit short shots from different situations. In brief, it will make your shore game very good. Take six balls around the green and toss chem into various lies. Hit all six toward a hole. After you hit them all, aim at a different hole. If you make one, take it out of play. Keep going until you hole all six balls.

In your 30s

Make your swing more efficient

By Davis Love III, age 34

Learn to swing 'over your feet'

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The longer swing of my 20s produced a lot of speed, but it also could be inconsistent. In my 30s, I've concen­trated on swinging from a more stable base. I still make a full shoulder turn similar to the one I made at 22, but now I try to keep my swing more "over my feet." I can take the club back farther, but I seldom need to. My feet stay nearly flat on the ground at the top of my backswing now, giving me balance and a solid foundation to swing around. That may make my swing a little shorter, but it also makes it easier for the club to stay on plane.

You can't stay 22 forever, especially in golf. The swing of my 30s is often shorter than my swing at 22, but it's also almost always better—and less stressful to my back. I control trajectory and distance better now, which makes hit­ting greens and scoring lower more likely. It's also easier when you can rely on consistency rather than power for your scoring. When I was younger, I could just whale on the ball and hit it miles. In my 30s, I've worked with my teacher, Jack Lumpkin, to make my swing more efficient without sacrificing distance. (I can still hit it 300-plus yards when I need to.) Even if I lose some club­head speed, l feel my swing will stay solid enough to keep me competitive. In addi­tion, this swing is easier to maintain than one that relies heavily on timing and speed. That's crucial as the demands on your time increase in your 30s.

'Flat feet' control impact

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Controlled footwork on the downswing allows me to hit shots with less effort and more control. But I'm not suggesting that my feet are static in any way. There's still a weight shift, but I try to stay more cen­tered over the ball. At impact, I want to feel like my right foot is rolling in slightly and driving toward the target while I'm still keeping the sole of my shoe on the ground. That type of balance breeds good distance and better accuracy.

In your 40s

To stay competitive, stay in shape

By Nick Price, age 42, Golf Digest Playing Editor

Get fit to finish strong

I've made physical fitness a priority now that I've reached my 40s. The more physically fit you are, the stronger you'll be mentally, especially late in the round. I'll work out two to five times a week, focusing on cardiovascular exercises (like riding a stationary bike) and some strength training, along with regular stretching. I al o get monthly checkup visits from a physical therapist. I'm not out to build muscle with my fitness regimen. Rather, I want to maintain my strength level, flexibility and muscle tone in an effort to prevent injury. Prevention, especially when you get into your 40s, is always better than the cure.

When I was in my 20s, very few players on tour were fitness fanatics. I wasn't one of them. Now I know I have to be. There's no reason I can't stay com­petitive until I'm 50, provided I keep myself in shape. I only have to look at Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan to see what's possible. There's no reason your game should slide as you get into your 40s, either. I'm nearly as strong as when I was in my mid-20s, and I still practice golf as intensely as I ever have, but now I'm trying to stay in better physical shape, too. Obviously, as you get into your 40s, you have to work a little bit harder to do that. But it's worth it. In fact, it might be one reason I was able to hold off Tiger Woods (19 years my junior) in a five-hole playoff to win the Million Dollar Challenge in December. Your actual payoff may not be as large, but it should be just as rewarding.

Stretch to prevent injury

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The golf swing isn't a natural motion, and the better you prepare for it, the less likely you will get hurt. So stretch before you get to the first tee. The exercises (above) help me make an effective turn on the backswing (left). Hold each stretch for a count of 10 and then alternate sides. (Notice my feet stay flat on the ground.) Stretching is not an effort to make my swing longer, though. It's all about maintaining my body's ability to let the golf swing happen.

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Get help by using the latest equipment

Now's the time to start using equip­ment that is a little more forgiving.
I still play forged blades, but if you don't practice every day (and maybe even if you do), you should be using perimeter-weighted irons. Also, think about trading in your longer irons for fairway woods, and switching to an oversize driver. Even I've done the lat­ter, and it's helped me hit my tee shots a little higher, straighter and longer. I've used three putters over the last year, but they share the same user-­friendly characteristics: face-balancing, heel-toe weighting, sight lines and a rounded sole (to keep the putter square at address and through impact). Get as much help from the putter as you can—­it can lower your score faster than any swing change.

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In your 50s

Play smarter to hit it farther

By Johnny Miller, age 51, Golf Digest Playing Editor

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Your 50s is the first decade when the ravages of time really begin to take a toll. You probably are just as strong as you were 10 years ago, but you're no­where near as flexible. The diminishing elasticity in your muscles, tendons and ligaments comes to light in a number of ways, but the most noticeable result is that you don't hit the ball as far. That hurts your game and bruises your ego.

Still, I hit the ball slightly farther than I did 15 years ago. I've done it by focusing on three things: (1) maintain­ing performance in the body parts that suffer most from the loss of flexibility; (2) altering my swing slightly with the driver; and (3) modifying my clubs, most importantly the driver, which I've made longer and heavier. Apply these tips to your game, and when you look in the mirror you'll see a younger golfer looking back at you.

Tee the ball higher and hit an 'uppercut'

To get more yards out of your driver, you want to hit the ball with an exaggerated upward blow. Start by teeing the ball higher, so virtually all of it is above the top of the clubface. When you swing, think of a boxer delivering a powerful uppercut. See how my left leg has straightened? I've come out of the tiny crouch I had at address by working my lower body from low to high. For extra leverage, keep the head back, the right arm close to your side.

Stress relief

Older golfers, especially those with back or leg problems, may benefit from narrowing their stance, says Dr. Bill Mallon, an orthopedic surgeon and former tour player. A narrow stance allows you to turn your hips more easily. This will take stress off the lower back and lower extreml· ties while still allowing you to turn your upper body freely.

Right is might

A key ingredient to a strong, dynamic backswing is a firm right leg. You want to turn around the fixed position of your right thigh. Don't sway laterally and allow the angle of your right leg to change from what It was at address. Keep it braced, and you'll be amazed at how powerfully your hips and legs explode Into the ball on the down­swing.

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Learn to hit the draw for distance

A draw goes farther than a fade. To guarantee an aggressive release of the clubhead and a right-to-left ball flight, you want to perform an action similar to that of a tennis cross-court shot­the right hand overtakes the left through impact (left), closing the club­face. You've done it correctly if, at the top of the follow-through, your right shoulder is higher than your left (right). That's a sign of a strong right-side action and lots of hand-arm rotation.

In your 60s

Keep your body—and mind—supple

By Gary Player, age 63

Stretch out with a weighted club

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A weighted club strengthens and stretches every golf muscle. It's convenient and effective. Because it's heavy, it helps you get a full turn. It also encourages you to swing slowly, particularly on the way down, and to get a full stretch on the follow-through. The model I use and endorse, the 1,000-gram Heavy Hitter, also has a reminder grip, which helps you place your fingers correctly on the grip. If you're not in the right position at the top—say, if your left wrist is bowed too far backward—your wrists won't be able to hold the position. The heavy club forces you to the right position.

Young people of my gen­eration were told that when we got to age 60, we'd be old. The suc­cess of the senior tour certainly has proven that's no longer true for anyone—golfers especially. But to remain active and to keep playing your best golf, you have to keep stretching, you have to watch your diet and you have to continue setting goals. There are a thousand exampies—one of mine is wanting to win in the year 2000, to extend my streak of winning an official tour event to six decades. Yours might be simply walking a quarter mile before breakfast. The key is to achieve that goal-then to set new ones. That's the beautiful thing about the human body: You may be fat, you may be weak, but you can make yourself fitter and you can make your­self stronger. Age is truly only a number in your mind.

Show your spikes on the finish

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Older golfers often lose extension on the follow-through. They come off the ball with a flat, weak finish, the weight remaining back on a straight right leg (inset.) To maintain power, you must really chase after the ball, turning your right shoulder down and through im­pact. Finish with your weight on your left leg, the spikes of your right shoe fully exposed.

Do the skier's squat for better posture

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When a boxer's skills start to deterio­rate, they say the legs go first. The same thing can happen with golfers. If your leg weakens, you lose the support you need, and you develop posture prob­lems ac address. To keep your legs and lower back strong, do the skier's squat on a regular basis. Lower into a sitting position, your heels flat and your thighs parallel to the ground. Hold your arms in front of you and keep a slight arch in your back (inset)-don't hunch over. Try to hold this position for 30 seconds or more. Now feel some tension in those same muscles when you set up to the ball.

How to stay a 'flat-belly'

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I get a kick out of seeing fellow tour players who used to ridicule me for exercising now doing it themselves. Better late than never. Even if you start at age 60, you can strengthen your body. One of the most effective exercises is the stomach crunch, which strengthens and tones the abdominal muscles. I do as many as 1,000 crunches a day, some when I get up in the morning, some after my round, more before I go to bed. I do them three ways: legs wide and stretched along the ground; knees up, with feet on the floor; and a more strenuous variation in which the legs are together and raised off the ground. Keep your hands behind your head, and don't raise your lower back fully off the ground.

70s and up

Don't get lazy with the fundamentals

By Sam Snead, age 86

Grip it right to boost swing speed

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A lot of "super se­niors" are so thrilled about still being able to play they stop paying attention to the little things that can help them play better. One of the most common errors is gripping the club with a "weak" left hand. Remember, you want the "V" formed by your thumb and forefinger to point over your right shoulder. That way, the club will run along the base of your fingers and under the butt of your hand, giving you more leverage and clubhead speed.

I have to admit, at 86 I'm aging pretty well. It could be that it's in my genes-one of my great-grandmothers lived to be 106 and could outshuck anybody in a cornfield when she was past 90. Clean living might have some­thing to do with it; I've never smoked and didn't touch a drop of hard liquor until I was almost 50.

My game is aging well, too. I can't remember the last time I failed to shoot my age, and on a good day I'm able to crank my drives out there 230 yards. I don't reckon I'll stop playing until they put me in the ground. People want to know the secret to keeping their golf games "young." Be­yond exercise and a sound diet, the most important thing is to avoid getting lazy with the fundamentals, such as the grip and a basic turn. Here are a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.

Get in position to make a full turn

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Another lazy mistake is taking the club back too flat and too much to the inside. The feeling is that you're taking a shortcut to the top of the backswing, but all it does is shorten your swing arc, put you in a bad position at the top and cost you distance in the end. Take the club straight back away from the ball. That makes your backswing nice and wide and puts you in position to make a full turn. At the top, cock the club up with your hands and wrists. Now you're in posi­tion to belt the ball a country mile.