Like a good wine, improving with age
Different Strokes:If we’re honest, golf’s everyman allure was epitomised by Miguel Angel Jimenez’s celebratory poses – with glass of Rioja in hand – after he took the record as the oldest winner on the European Tour away from our own Des Smyth.
The pony-tailed Spaniard has, like the wine, improved with age and his win in the Hong Kong Open was an appropriate indicator of his longevity.
At the ripe old age of 48, and in sport where a teenager – Matteo Manassero – preceded him as a winner on the tour, Jimenez’s remarkable durability emphasised that, of all professional sports, golf is the one which manages to cross the generations.
Of course, we only have to go back to Tom Watson’s close call in the 2009 British Open – where he was beaten in a play-off by Stewart Cink – to know that the so-called grey-haired generation can mix it with the younger guns.
After all, Watson, aged 60 at the time and with an artificial hip, took the quest for the claret jug to the wire. Could we envisage Alan Wells doing the same to Usain Bolt over the 100 metres? Or Kevin Keegan coming out of retirement and playing regularly in the Premier League?
That old-timers are capable of mixing it with the younger generations shouldn’t be construed as making golf any way inferior. It is a game of skill and of mental fortitude and, on that point, experience can be a help rather than a hindrance.
And if the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have made athleticism in the sport more of the norm than in the past, it really does the old heart good to see someone like Jimenez put one over on the youngsters.
All of which brings us back to Watson who, asked what his achievement at Turnberry in very nearly becoming the oldest winner of a Major title meant, responded: “I think it’s very clear. It means the game of golf is long lived. You play this game for a lifetime.”
There is some pertinence to the timing of Greg Norman’s remarks about players using beta blockers – in the days before drug testing were introduced on tour in 2008 – to calm their nerves.
The Great White Shark is quoted in the New York Times as saying he remembers a time when “lots of guys were on beta blockers . . . it wasn’t openly acknowledged, but it was obvious to the rest of us. A guy’s personality would change. In practice rounds or friendly matches, we’d see the real guy under stress. Then in competition, he was like a different, calmer person. Those guys were trying to take the nerves out of the game. But nerves are very much a part of the game.”
Norman’s comments come soon after Charlie Beljan suffered a panic attack en route to winning the recent Children’s Miracle Network Classic on the US Tour. If Beljan is required to take medication to treat his anxiety, he will need a therapeutic-use exemption, which requires a review by an independent panel of doctors.