Created to showcase world-class professionals over the age of 40 in an international team competition, the event is in position to capitalize on the remarkable success of golfers who find their 30s are in the rear view mirror. This year alone, 10 players in the age group have won 14 PGA Tour events. Which begs the age-old question - what years define a golfers competitive prime?
If you take Bobby Jones as an example, it would seem that youth prevails. For most of the 20th century Jones was considered the Greatest golfer of all time. He won his first major championship at the age of 21, then retired seven years later after winning 11 more.
Jones early exit makes him an incomplete case study. But a look at the next Greatest, Jack Nicklaus gives the fullest possible example of a championship career.
Jones tournament career was atypical due to its brevity, as was the Golden Bears longevity. No champion has ever been able to sustain competitive excellence for as many years as Nicklaus. By the age of 29 Nicklaus had won seven majors and the career slam, but his 30s defined Nicklaus as a champion. At 30 he won the Open Championship, in America known at the British Open, at St. Andrews which started a run of 33 majors with eight wins, seven runner-up finishes, 25 top-fives and only twice out of the top 10. His worst finish was tied for 13th.
Along the way, he finished his second and third laps around the career slam. At 40 Nicklaus won two more majors, and his Masters win at 46 is still recalled by many golf fans as their favorite moment in major championship golf.
Not all great champions have started fast, however. Fifty years ago, Ben Hogan won all three majors in which he competed. He was 41 years old in 1953, having won his first major in his mid-30s. Hogan was a late bloomer whose career was interrupted by a serious car accident after he had won three of his nine career majors. Even taking into account his recuperation, Hogans prime has to be considered from the ages of 34 through 42.
Traditionally a player in peak form needs to be young enough to possess the athleticism required for a solid, powerful swing, and mature enough to have gained the experience to handle all the vagaries of the game. Mental toughness and course management are vital to a players score, and typically these traits take a good deal of time to develop on the PGA Tour. Tiger Woods breathtaking emergence on the PGA Tour mirrors the early success of Jones and Nicklaus, but only time will tell what ages define his prime.
While the Tiger Effect on tour has created a false sense of youthful domination, another trend has developed. Players who have gained the necessary experience and maturity through years of competition are now more able to maintain the youthful athleticism needed for the physical execution of the game. Diet and fitness have enabled players to retain flexibility and stamina, while equipment tailored to a players game has helped reduce the negative effects of an aging swing. The proof lies in the results on tour this year.
The season started with players in their late 30s winning events and players in their 40s like Jay Haas and John Huston contending late Sunday afternoons. March opened with 47-year-old Scott Hoch winning at Doral, and a 40-something golfer would win at least one event per month for the rest of the year. In April, 43-year-old Fred Couples won in his collegiate hometown of Houston. The months of May, June and July saw victories by Kenny Perry. The soft-spoken 42-year-old from Kentucky claimed such important titles as The Bank of America Colonial and The Memorial, but it was the two weeks following Perrys win in Milwaukee that defined this season for the over-40 crowd.
At the B.C. Open, 50-year-old Craig Stadler entered the final round tied for ninth, eight shots behind 42-year-old Steve Lowery. Stadler birdied four of his first five and surged to a one-shot win. The victory made Stadler the only man ever to win a PGA Tour event as a fulltime member of the Champions Tour. It was his first win since 1996, and the very next week Peter Jacobsen claimed his first title since 1995 at the Greater Hartford Open.
Kirk Triplett represented the group in August with a win in Reno, while September saw four players in their 40s take home trophies in consecutive weeks. One of the tours oldest stops was decided by a playoff between 44-year-old Bob Tway and 42-year-old Brad Faxon as Tway ended his 8-year drought. J.L. Lewis and Tommy Armour III went back-to-back in late September after Vijay Singh had won his second event of the year as a 40-year-old, and his third overall. John Huston started October right with a win at the Southern Farm Bureau. It was the ninth win by a 40-something golfer in 13 weeks.
Youngsters may still dominate the endorsement deals and TV coverage, but this year experienced players have proven their mettle.
As the UBS Cup matures, so does the level of play enjoyed by its participants. No age group in the game has experienced a resurgence like the 40-something golfers this year. Their competitive level may be the story of the year on the PGA Tour, and it is certain to provide the UBS Cup with all the excitement and excellence golf fans have come to expect from superior international team competitions.