Hail to Hale Irwin King of the Elders

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Hale Irwin is 59 today. Thats 5-dash-9. That is a lot older than Craig Stadler or Jay Haas. Its quite a bit older than Fuzzy Zoeller or Bruce Lietzke. Its older than Tom Watson or Tom Kite. Its even older than Gil Morgan or Larry Nelson.
 
And though Irwin is 59, hes still winning Champions Tour majors. He won the latest last week - the Senior PGA Championship. At an age when the elder gents are seriously throttling back their careers, Irwin is still playing like a youngster.
 
Irwin realizes he is past the age when men continue winning championships, regardless of the sport. Many people ' including probably him ' thought he was finished when he suffered a back injury the middle of last season. But here he is, whuppin up on the youngsters like he has been doing the last nine years.
 
I'm very proud, he said after his latest win, and there wasnt a bit of braggadocio in his voice. I'm not satisfied, but I'm proud.
 
I mean, I'm not satisfied in the sense that I'm just going to sit back and that's the end of it. But I think at the stage where I am in my career and still be able to go out and play the kind of golf that I'm capable of playing - particularly in light of a year ago at this time, I was in severe spasms with my back and sat out a good part of the summer and really kind of had to learn how to play golf with a different kind of a swing. Knowing what I can do and what I can't do, I'm still in that learning curve.
 
Say what? You mean Irwin beat them with a tweaked swing? He couldnt launch it anymore with the old windup ' the back just wouldnt allow it. So he had to improvise at this advanced age. And all he did was win the danged tournament.

Irwin has always kind of reminded me of an older Annika Sorenstam. Hes not flashy at all, just like Annika. His swing is compact, not at all fancy ' just like Annika. All he does is win golf tournaments. I guess thats all Ms. Sorenstam does, too.
 
At the age of 53, 54, even 55, that was quite understandable. He was at that age where he was just so much better than any of the Champions Tour members, and that was long and short of it.
 
But when he got to be 56, 57 ' well, that was somewhat eye-opening. And to win a major at the age of nearly 59 ' hey, that just isnt done.
 
But Irwin won three U.S. Opens playing with the juniors, including what may have been the most difficult one of all ' in 74 at Winged Foot. The winds were howling and there was rain and cold weather, and Irwin stood up to it all. He had to accept a 7-over-par score to do it ' but he won. He has always been among the most patient of players, willing to play for pars if need be, accept the occasional bogey if thats what the course throws at you, but always stay in a position to win the title.
 
Did I have the basic skills that everybody else didn't have? I doubt it, conceded Irwin.
 
I mean, I have always driven the ball in play and I have hit a lot of good iron shots, kept the ball in play nicely. But I think I just did not give up because there was a lot of conversation that week (in 74) of players sort of accepting that they couldn't play it. And I am quite certain there's going to be some players coming around this week that are going to look at this golf course and kind of be thinking, 'How in the world am I going to do this because it is different?
 
So I think that's probably the basic ingredient is I have just never had that willingness to give up on it. So when I encounter a course like Winged Foot or Aronimink or wherever it may be, I can kind of fall back on that - maybe it's like football, just being one of the smallest guys on the field and having to do something a little better, whether it be preparing myself better or trying harder or whatever those locker room cliches are, they have helped me through the years.
 
Irwin won 20 times on the regular tour in 26 years. Hes now won 40 times on the Champions (nee Senior) Tour in just under nine years. Obviously he has taken whatever abilities he had on the regular tour and stepped them up a notch for the elder circuit.
 
Above it all, his putting on the Champions has been remarkable. In eight full seasons on the tour, he finished first three times, second once, and third twice. And hes finished first or second in the all-important stat of scoring average in six of those eight years ' he finished third and fourth in the other two years.
 
Any time now, he will have to slow down. It obviously wont be this year, maybe not next year when he is 60. But he cant continue beating guys 10, 11 years younger than he when he is 61 or 62.
 
Er ' can he?
 
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