Gymnasts are generally used up and gone by the time they are 20. Figure skaters get a little more longevity, topping out at, say, 25. Football, basketball and baseball players go to 30-35.
But golf? Last week Annika Sorenstam proved she is still No. 1 in the box office and No. 1 on the course, and shes already 32. And the men are even more incredible ' the last two tournaments have been won by a 42-year-old ' Kenny Perry.
Theyve played 22 tournaments on the PGA Tour, and nine have been won by gents 39 or older. The only kids who have won are Ben Crane (26) and a young fella who has won three times ' someone name of Eldrick (Tiger) Woods. Hes 27.
The women? Before Annika won last weekend, a couple of 42-year-olds won the previous two, buying Geritol and collecting the hardware. How often have you heard the names Juli Inkster and Rosie Jones?
Golf, you see, doesnt require you to run fast or be so supple you can squeeze though a pinhead. You have to walk five miles a day in golf, sure, but the most important thing is to have remarkable muscle memory ' the ability to swing a club to and fro like a metronome, repeating the action every single time. Modern technology has already figured out how to make the ball go far ' the area that you think of when you think of youth. All that is really required is steady nerves ' and a hot hand.
I know I dont have the same clubhead speed (as) back when I was 25, admitted Perry. There is no way. But Im able to hit it just as far, or maybe further. I think that has been a big deal to us all ' equipment.
But, there is something more important, and something you can have only by playing a number of years. You can buy a new driver or golf ball - but you cant buy experience.
Thats huge, said Perry. You cant put a price on experience.
You kind of understand how the golf course is going to play, where they will split the flag sticks when they are in these positions ' you know where to hit the ball. I have had lots of putts that are similar.
And, you know, Im just not as uptight as I used to be. Im very relaxed going out there. If I play good ' great! If I dont ' fine. Lets find out whats wrong and fix it.
In ice skating, the ice is roughly the same dimensions in Calgary as it is Stockholm. In football and basketball ' ditto. Experience isnt nearly as big a factor.
On occasion, of course, raw ability just comes barging to the front, regardless if that ability is wielded by a youngster or a veteran. But if both the youngster and the oldtimer possess roughly the same skill level, you can be sure that experience will be the deciding factor in golf.
Inkster and Jones may be throwbacks on the womens tour. But Beth Daniel has almost broken though this year a couple of times, and she is 46. Lorie Kane is 38, and she is definitely a threat. Inkster feels it is a question of keeping goals in front of you and staying in shape.
My goal is to play good golf and to compete, she says. I would not be out there if I did not think I could compete, and as long as I can do that, I am just going to play it by ear.
Inkster has two daughters, aged 13 and 9, and it wasnt so long ago that she was busily trying to raise them from the infant stage. Now that that time-consuming business has been accomplished, however, she can practice when they go to school. Golf is exciting again, and so is her game.
I am very competitive, she said. I try to practice when they are in school. I am very competitive. In order for me to play well, I know I have to be ready when I come out here. When I am out here, I work hard at my game and try to stay prepared.
And still, age has its advantages in the world of golf. The Charles Howellses and the Luke Donalds and the Matt Kuchers will have to queue up and wait their turn. In this game, theres no business like the experience business.