LALI STANDER: ‘Jeez, I could do what that ol’ codger’s doing’
Golf is a beautiful thing. Whether we watch or play, golf is a cradle-to-grave sport for all ages, as Phil Mickelson recently underscored with his Major win.
Mickelson’s victory at the age of 50 took me back to a Sunday afternoon in 2009, when 59-year-old Tom Watson finished the 138th Open with an affirmation that golf truly is a sport for the ages.
Watson started the week at Turnberry with 1,500-1 odds.
When a flawless 65 saw him finish one off the lead at five-under in round one, the experts wrote it off as a lucky fluke. When he produced a level par 70 in the worst Ayrshire weather for the joint lead with compatriot Steve Marino, they doubted he could sustain his form for four days of exhausting links golf, especially nine months after a hip replacement.
When he held the outright lead through 54 holes after a 71 on the Saturday, they predicted a Sunday blowout. But on that Sunday their opinions were deafened by millions of golfers and non-golfers around the globe who were willing the American senior to victory.
When Watson reached the Duel in the Sun — the par four 18th where 32 years earlier he bested Jack Nicklaus in an epic duel to win his second Open in 1977 — he needed only par to lift the Claret Jug.
The flat-stick left him inches short and he lost the ensuing four-hole play-off to Stewart Cink, but in the aftermath of what could have been one of sport’s all-time greatest moments, Watson’s performance sent a message, which was echoed by Mickelson’s achievement at the 2021 PGA Championship trophy.
Watson played his first two rounds in the 2009 Open alongside a 16-year-old amateur. He won his sixth Major 26 years after he lifted one of golf’s Big Four titles.
At the age of 50 years, 11 months and seven days, Mickelson became the oldest Major winner. Those who scoffed when he received a special exemption into the US Open in July had to eat their words after he beat Brooks Koepka — 19 years his junior — for his sixth Major title at the brutally tough Kiawah Island. And he was even older than recent Senior PGA champion Alex Cejka.
And that is the thing about golf.
You are in awe when you watch Wayde van Niekerk obliterate a world record to claim Olympic gold, or Cheslin Kolbe dive over the try line for the Springboks to win a Rugby World Cup, but you’re not thinking, “Jeez, I could do that.”
But when a guy half a century old whips the world’s best, you can relate.
When Lydia Ko becomes the youngest LPGA winner at the age of 15 or when “Big Mama” JoAnne Carter tees it up on the LPGA Tour at the age of 66, we can identify. When a five-months pregnant Catriona Matthews wins a tournament or when Richard Bland becomes the oldest first-time winner on the European Tour at 48 years and 101 days, we can imagine ourselves doing that.
Because when we watch them, we think, “that guy is my age; she’s my height and build; he’s had a hip replacement like me. Jeez, I could do that.”
Golf is a game of possibility with no age limit or expiry date; it’s a game for all the ages.
* Stander has been involved in the golf industry from grass roots to professional level for the past 23 years and is media manager of GolfRSA.
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