Hale Irwin ' that is, 60-YEAR-OLD Hale Irwin ' spent last week doing the same things he did as a 25-year-old. He got up, went through a couple hours of golf tournament preparation, went out and walked a rugged Pebble Beach layout, spent four hours each day formulating strategy ' and won a golf tournament. No, he didnt rely on a golf cart. No, he didnt forget his socks. And no, he didnt even think about needing a cane.
Irwin won for the third time this year. But the other two came while he was only 59. He was 60 in June. To think that a 60-year-old could still be winning at this kind of a clip is ' well, just incredible.
For a decade, he has stared down the best that Champions Tour golf could offer, and whipped them all. He started out in the era of Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd and Jack Nicklaus, and he beat them. He faced Tom Kite and Tom Watson, and he beat them. Now hes facing Craig Stadler Loren Roberts, Peter Jacobsen, Bruce Lietzke ' and he beat them. And when Tiger Woods turns 50, want to bet that Irwin will still be grinding em out?
Those 43 wins are far more the No. 2 man ' Trevino with 29. And to think that Irwin the past three years has been struggling with a tricky back that occasionally goes out for months at a time.
That means, of course, that his practice time is severely limited - sprinkled in among his three victories are a T-52, T-46, a T-42, a T-26 and a couple of 25s. But when his back lets him play, he has repeatedly shown why he is one of the best elder athletes on the planet.
'I think it's because of my athleticism that I'm able to compete with these younger guys,' Irwin said. '... I relish the challenge. I challenge myself to go out at 60 and play the same golf I did at 50.'
AND ' he still isnt in the maximum physical condition that he expects to be in next year. 'I've gotten away from my conditioning because of my back, but I've got to get back to that this winter,' Irwin said.
The guys who were contesting him at last weeks tournament were awestruck at what they had just witnessed. Stadler, for one, couldnt quite fathom it. 'I don't think it matters how old he is, he said, because he keeps playing the same every week. He's a very good athlete with a great mind-set and a great game. That's a nice combo.'
Irwin, like Old Man River, just keeps on rolling. He won twice last year, twice in 2003 since the back problems really hit him. Before that, he was a four-time winner as late as his 57th year in 2002.
And he keeps testing whether he still can do it ' win against the men who are sometimes nine or 10 year younger . And the answer is still, Yes.
'I'd be telling a tall one if I said I wasn't nervous down the stretch,' said Irwin. 'The win only confirms to me that I still can play, that I have what it takes to compete at this level.
'I think experience helped out there,' Irwin said. 'I tried really hard not to get too distraught or too caught up in the moment.'
But, even 60-year-olds get excited. Sixty-year-olds still sweat a little under the heat of contending. That has never, ever changed for Irwin.
Oh, yeah, he said. If you don't feel some anxiety, if you don't feel some pressure, if you don't get excited about the moment, then why are you here? When I don't feel that, you'll see me driving down the road and I won't come back. That's certainly part of why I do what I do, because I enjoy that competitive moment.
I like going up against Greg Norman. I like going up against Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson. I wish Tiger Woods was here. I think we'd all play better. I enjoy that.
He still gets the nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach, and thats something that has never gone away, not in 40 years of playing.
Let's put it this way, Irwin said: I'm not as nervous on the first tee on Thursday as I used to be, but I'm probably, if I'm in contention, as anxious on the first tee on Sunday (as) I was in the past. It just takes a little longer to get the engine wound up to get there. But it's still there.
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