The harsh reality of being an old guy on tour
Photo illustration: John Ritter • House: Marcin Kowaluk/Thesmith/Getty Images
I’m one of very few guys over age 45 who plays a full PGA Tour schedule. Other than Phil Mickelson, who’s an absolute marvel at 48, most golf fans would have a difficult time naming the rest of us. When I first got a tour card, any given week the field had at least a dozen real veterans, guys who’d played with golfers I’d only seen in photographs. Nowadays, 36 or 37 feels old out here. Instead of three or four generations of players, it’s like we have two.
It’s no secret that players are better younger. The way our sport has developed at the junior and collegiate levels means rookies are arriving to the pros more seasoned from elite tournament experience. And obviously, physical fitness and technology have put greater emphasis on power, so kids who can hit driver-wedge all day on 7,400-yard courses will tend to rise. Not that they don’t deserve to. The new era has arrived, and I applaud all the Justin Thomases and Bryson DeChambeaus who’ve ushered it in. But tougher competition from the bottom is only half the reason why there are fewer “old guys” out here. It’s harder to have a long career because of how the pace of the PGA Tour has intensified. It’s no longer if you will get injured, but when.
Sure, we’re cutting one playoff event in 2019, but there’s still no off-season. The fall used to be a time to rest and repair the body, but not anymore. There are almost 50 events on the PGA Tour calendar this season. Unless you’re a top-30 player, you really can’t afford to take three weeks off in a row. Guys will shoot past you in the rankings. And once you fall outside the top 50, your schedule stops being in your control.
I know what you’re thinking: This guy is whining because he can’t get a three-week vacation from playing golf—please. But it’s a grind, especially as you start to age a little. Always sleeping on a different bed, always questioning your food, lugging clubs through baggage claim in the middle of the night, uncertain what time zone you’re in because your phone is dead. When being home is the exception, the body breaks down faster. Every day that I’m on tour, I visit the physical trainer for a massage. There are no candles or robes or meditative music. It’s 30 to 40 minutes of pain so I can keep swinging another day.
Except for the stars, professional golf has become increasingly about stamina. Who can play solidly week in and week out without rest? I’m not saying that’s inherently wrong, but it deserves to be recognized that this is the athletic trait our system is designed to reward.
I’m not really the mentor type, but on occasion I’ve hinted to younger players that they ought to be more thoughtful with their money. Winning a tournament doesn’t mean that you’ve made it. A million bucks can feel like all the money in the world when you’re 25, but you’re going to pay almost half to the government. Plus, there’s always the chance your career could be over in five years. Buy the 10,000-square-foot party house in Jupiter that costs $100,000 per year in taxes and maintenance, and suddenly you’ve applied serious pressure to your golf game. How are those carrying costs going to feel if you’re relegated to the Web.com Tour? And another thing: Unless you have enough money to fly private until the day you die, you can’t afford to fly private.
As far as athletes go, golfers tend to be more responsible. I have a friend who’s a sports agent, and he tells me all the stories of the football and basketball kids who blow a signing bonus in a month, going to nightclubs, getting diamond piercings in places you don’t want to know. —with Max Adler