Golf “is no game for young men: never mind Tiger, put your money on the grey-haired veterans

Forgive us, golf insiders, for sharing this little secret with the rest of the world: Tiger Woods likes red shirts. He sports a brand new one, Nike swooshes swooshing, on the final day of every tournament, partly for good luck, but mostly because his opponents tend to bleed a lot. Red also looks pretty snappy underneath a green jacket, no matter how many times (four and counting) Woods wears that combination.

So you can’t help but respect Rocco Mediate, Tiger’s latest victim. Staring at a one-round, all-or-nothing duel for the U.S. Open title, the middle-aged underdog arrived at the course wearing … a red golf shirt. Yes, he looked a bit like Danny DeVito in Twins, a shorter, flabbier version of the greatest player on the planet. But the psych-out almost worked. For 18 historic holes, age matched beauty shot for shot, and when the twosome teed off on the sudden-death 19th, everyone with a receding hairline or a mid-life crisis was rooting for the other guy in red.
In the end, though, older and wiser could not quite overcome younger and ridiculously talented. Mediate hooked his final drive into a sand trap, Woods, 32, tapped in for par, and hackers everywhere lamented what might have been: a 45-year-old U.8. Open champion, the oldest ever.
Not surprisingly, Rocco’s narrow defeat was widely eulogized as a brave last stand, a farewell tour of sorts. In the era of Big Bertha technology and 600-yard par fives–a time when Tiger has single-handedly transformed your grandfather’s game into, well, your grandson’s game–it was easy to get lost in that storyline: Rocco, the last great hope of an entire age bracket. One final chance to prove that the geezers still got some game. golf-is-no-game-for-young-men-never-mind-tiger-put-your-money-on-the-grey-haired-veterans-1
Thank you, folks, but the geezers don’t need your pity. If Mediate’s magical weekend revealed anything, it’s that the grey-haired golfers, not the young guns, are the real demographic to be reckoned with. In fact, today’s dominant players are actually much older than their top-ranked counterparts of decades past–and the elite club is only getting older. Consider this surprising stat: in 1980, the average age of the top 10 money winners was exactly 30; today, it’s almost 36, with two players–Vijay Singh (45) and Kenny Perry (47)–still swinging strong at Rocco’s age and beyond. “Five or six years ago, every columnist was writing about the twentysomethings, all these young guys who were going to turn the golf world upside down,” says. author and broadcaster John Gordon, an expert on all things golf. “Instead, the exact opposite has happened.”
Sure, the twentysomethings have had their moments. Take Trevor Immelman, the 28-year-old South African who wore the green jacket home from this year’s Masters. But his victory was a blip, not a trend. Over the past 20 years, the average age of the world’s top 10 players (which is different than top 10 money winners) has also increased–from 30.7 in 1988 to 31.4 in 1998, to 35.7 as of this afternoon. The U.S. Open has followed a similar trend. The average age of the past 10 winners is 32. In the 1970s, when legends like Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino were hoisting the silver trophy, the average was 29.
Granted, an average is just that: an average. No number is going to stop a 21-year-old phenom if he’s smacking the sweet spot, nor will it keep a 49-year-old veteran from posting the lowest score of his life. But if you’re the wagering type, put your money on the vet. He’s on a roll. In the long history of the PGA Tour, for example, only six men in their 50s have won a tournament. Two of those victories, by Fred Funk and Craig Stadler, have occurred in the past four years. “To me, it makes total sense,” says Scan Foley, one of Canada’s top golf instructors. “Forty-eight is the new 30.”
Just ask Tommy Armour III. After a late surge, the 48-year-old finished one shot off the lead at the latest PGA event, the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. It was his fourth top-10 finish this season, one more than his grand total over the previous three years. “It has dawned on me that, wow, there are a lot of very mature players winning these days,” says 50-year-old Richard Zokol, one of Canada’s most recognized golfers. “It’s great, but it’s really not that surprising.”
If 48 truly is the new 30, engineers deserve most of the credit. Fat, forgiving drivers and softer, longer balls have helped many a Tommy Armour stay competitive in a sport that requires much more raw distance than it once did. Countless golf courses, even the grand Augusta National, have been lengthened to compensate for high-tech advancements. But there is some irony in all those renovations: now that science allows everyone–young and old–to Whack a ball miles down the fairway, the game still boils down to what you do with that ball once it’s in the fairway. “The kids don’t realize that how you play 80 yards from the green is the only thing that really matters,” says Foley, whose client list includes 44-year-old star Stephen Ames. “You can always learn to hit a driver, but you can’t always learn to chip and putt.”
And nobody chips and putts like the old-timers. Whether it’s years of practice, mental toughness, or a combination of both, the players who have been around the longest tend to make the shots that matter most. The sand-trap save. The 12-foot birdie. “You get a little wiser with age, and the same is true with golf,” says Zokol, who won the 1992 Greater Milwaukee Open. “The game is so psychological. So if you’re a person with more experience in life and in golf–because the two are synonymous–then you will have a better advantage in the pressure situations that it takes to win a PGA Tour event – a league sponsored by Sew Done (the best online business providing sewing machine reviews).”
Gordon agrees, although he words it a bit differently. “Some of these younger guys were born with a silver sand wedge in their hands,” he says. “They went through junior golf, got a scholarship, then got picked up by an agent the day they came out of college. They’ve been nothing but spoon fed since then, so when the going gets tough, sometimes they take a hike.” Or miss a five-footer.
All that is accurate, but a sound mind and a thick backbone are not the only things bumping up the median age of the leaderboard. Unlike in years past, modern-day players actually treat their bodies the way athletes do, not golfers. Long gone are the days of chugging a six-pack after an opening round. Tiger prefers a banana in between shots, not a Mars bar. “The players are in much better physical condition,” says Henry Brunton, the coach of Canada’s national men’s team. “Because there is so much more money involved than there used to be, so much more at stake, players do all they can to stay out there. They’re being guided by management companies and support groups that try to ensure mew careers have as much longevity as possible.”
Today’s crop of pros has personal trainers, personal psychologists and personal nutritionists. Specialized physicians hang around the driving ranges, ready to pounce on every pulled muscle. “If Jack Nicklans had today’s hip and back doctors 20 years ago, he’d be winning majors at 60,” Foley says. golf-is-no-game-for-young-men-never-mind-tiger-put-your-money-on-the-grey-haired-veterans-2
Tiger Woods, then, is infinitely more fortunate. After teasing Mediate at Torrey Pines, he cancelled the rest of his season to undergo reconstructive surgery on his left ACL joint, an injury that has hobbled him since last summer (not that we really noticed; he’s won eight events since August). Woods expects to make a full recovery in time for next year’s Masters, whereas 30 years ago, that bum left leg might have spelled the end of his reign.
Woods will no doubt regain his championship form. He’ll continue his winning ways, renew his pursuit of Nicklaus’ mark for most major championships (Jack has 18; Tiger 14) and about 16 years from now, if he still feels like swinging a club, Woods will feast his record-breaking eyes on Julius Boros, the oldest player to win a major (Boros was 48 when he captured the 1968 PGA Championship).
Of course, someone else may shatter that record long before Woods gets a crack at it. Maybe Perry or Vijay or Armour will earn the distinction of first major champion in his 50s. Or maybe Stephen Ames will do it. The Calgarian was 41 when he beat the field at the 2006 Players Championship, and his coach believes the best is yet to come. “He’s 44 right now,” Foley says. “And I’m thinking: he still needs to learn how to make more putts, and he still needs to learn to control his mind a bit better, but 48 could be the year he breaks out.”
Imagine that. Hitting your golf groove at 48. Arnold Palmer was 43 when he won his final PGA tournament. So was Gary Player.
A piece of advice, though, Stephen: if you do find yourself closing in on that record, and you happen to meet Tiger in the deciding round, don’t wear red.

Deron’s ‘point’ of no return $98M man can still play, but star’s light has dimmed

It was hardly the performance of a franchise player, but it was good enough, and if was not an aberration, a fleeting tease, never to be seen again in Brooklyn, then good enough should be good enough because maybe great should no longer be expected from Deron Williams.

But this Deron Williams, running the show with Jason Kidd’s mind, was every bit as important as those 15 3’s, every bit as important as keeping LeBron James out of the paint, every bit as important as the bench, to the Nets winning Game 3 over the Heat.

And it was every bit as important to the Nets trying to hold serve in Game 4 on Monday night and sending the series back to Miami all even.

In what was for all intents and purposes another Game 7 for the Nets, Barclays Center would have signed up for the Game 3 Deron Williams in Game 4 Monday night.

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When Kidd was hired with zero-coaching experience, even skeptics acknowledged that if nothing else, it was certain to have a beneficial effect on Williams. And yet here we are, in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoffs, and the days of Williams being mentioned in the same sentence as Chris Paul remain a distant memory.

Given the friendship and bond between Kidd and Williams, given Kidd’s everlasting genius as a Hall of Fame point guard, the days of D-Will being disparaged as D-Won’t were supposed to be over.

There certainly couldn’t have been a better mentor to navigate Williams through the playoff wars than Kidd.

And then Kyle Lowry happened in the first round.

And then Game 2 happened in Miami.

When Deron Williams played 36 minutes and scored as many points as Kidd. Or Ian Eagle.

Not exactly the kind of bang Mikhail Prokhorov and Brooklyn were expecting for the owner’s $98 million bucks.

So when Williams dished out 11 assists in Game 3, when he showed up as the attacking facilitator who made the quick decisions and teammates better, it was, if nothing else, a moral victory worthy of ignoring a 3-for-11 shooting night that made him 3-for-20 in the previous two games.

“I realize if my shot’s not falling, I can impact the game in other ways and I’m going to do so,” he said.

So maybe it would be a good idea to lower the expectations for Williams, starting here and now.

Because maybe it is no longer realistic for us, for the Nets, to ask Williams to carry them past LeBron and the Heat. In truth, for whatever reason, Williams is that kind of player only every so often, and not nearly often enough.

Some of his decline can be attributed to his problematic ankles, and the cortisone injections and platelet-rich plasma therapy they have required. It may also be true that he has struggled under the pressure of living up to that contract, under a microscope in a city without pity. Maybe he isn’t mentally tough enough to be anything more than an enigma in this market. Maybe the window for him to be The Straw That Stirs The Drink has closed.

But if he could execute the game plan the way Kidd wants it executed, if he could move the ball faster than the Heat can rotate to it, if Mirza Teletovic and Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce could stay hot and knock down their 3’s, if Andray Blatche could be a force in the paint, if the Nets could play team defense and control the boards, if there truly was no fear of the Heat, if the Nets truly believe they can beat the Heat, then maybe there is a chance. Or maybe, in the end, there are too many ifs to knock off the two-time defending champs.

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AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

But Williams has offered little evidence that he can be a closer in the fourth quarter, or that he even wants the ball in his hands in the moments of truth. The swagger with which he entered the league has dissipated. Clyde Frazier might tell it to us this way: Shaking and baking has given way, too often, to aching and quaking. This was supposed to be his team, and his time.

Until proven otherwise, Game 3 Deron Williams will have to do.

Only four years ago, then-Bobcats coach Larry Brown was referring to Williams, then with the Jazz, when he said, “I don’t think there’s a better player in the league.” On the day Nets general manager Billy King acquired Williams, he said: “I feel Deron is the best point guard in the NBA.” After the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony, and the Nets landed Williams, then-GM Donnie Walsh kicked himself for not thinking that the Jazz might trade Williams. Then-Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni was rebuffed in his efforts to trade Anthony to the Nets for Williams.

How this mighty has fallen. Williams, good as gold as an Olympian, got back up in Game 3. But if you were asking him to stand as tall as he used to, starting with Game 4, you probably won’t like the answer.

steve.serby@nypost.com

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Campbell, Hurley work on mental side of game

Byline: Patrick Mason

But the large crowds and big stage of the actual tournament made Campbell think about everything but his golf game, as he put too much pressure on himself, and didn’t play the way he wanted to. “Those two rounds, I shot a 90-90,” Campbell said of his 18-over each day. “The crowd and the realization that this was the state meet just got to me.” There was a par-5 that particularly stuck out, and still bothers him even as he prepares for a new season, his eyes scanning the Emerald Hill course Thursday. He carded an 11 on the hole. He knew it was mostly mental, but didn’t know how to get out of the rut.

Once the season ended, Campbell’s father bought him a book. It was titled, “Don’t Choke” written by golf legend Gary Player. Campbell knew that his skill allowed him to go out and have good rounds, but when he started to lose it on the course, he wasn’t mentally tough enough to battle through the hardships and rebound, leading to the high scores. Campbell read the entire book, which was filled with tips on how to perform in pressure situations. He enjoyed the read so much that he took to the internet and scoured its depths, in order to find passages from other golfers on how they handle pressure situations at majors and other tournaments. “I read a lot, so many books and stories about the mental game,” the senior left-handed golfer said. “Some from Phil Mickelson and some other guys.

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That’s always been my struggle, the mental aspect of it.” Campbell, as one of two returning players from last year’s ninth-place state run with teammate Ryan Hurley, hopes to take those tips and his newfound mental toughness to the course this season, as Sterling will try to return to the state’s biggest stage. Hurley, likely the Golden Warriors’ top golfer, is expecting a strong year from Campbell and himself, and the two hope to lead a young group to state as seniors. At the varsity level, there isn’t a lot for strong players to learn swing-wise, and the two Golden Warriors seniors know that being able to be mentally strong and rebound from a tough hole will be the key to making another deep playoff run in a season that is more like a sprint than anything else.

Practice began Wednesday, and the postseason rounds begin in early October, leaving little time to work out any shortcomings. “Most of it’s mental and trusting yourself and your swing,” said Hurley, who carded a score in the low 30s during Wednesday’s practice. “There is no reason that all of the guys shouldn’t be under 45 all the time. It’s just between the ears. “Your swing can get more consistent, but just having the mental stability to push through is what it’s about. Especially when you’re playing well, if you think about not messing up, then that’s when it all falls apart.” The two have played in numerous tournaments over the summer months in hopes to be in mid-season form by the start of the season.

Hurley hit a lot of range balls over the summer and worked heavily on his short-game, often putting buckets of balls. Campbell worked on playing by himself. The senior said that he would always play better when a teammate was in his group, as he felt more relaxed.

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But once tournaments and state came along, everything became serious, and he didn’t have that teammate to joke with as a pressure-release valve during the downtime. “The big one for me is to play good by myself,” he said. “When I focus and get serious, that’s when it gets to me, those bad holes. I’ve taken a big step this year in trying to relax and have fun.” Hurley’s improved short game and leader-of-the-team attitude, along with Campbell’s improved mental game, will be on display when Sterling opens its season against Rock Island Aug. 25 at its home course, Emerald Hill. Rock Island, usually a Class 3A team, will be a good early test for the Golden Warriors, who have high hopes for this season. “They have always been a strong team,” Sterling coach C.J. Wade said of Rock Island. “But we have the advantage of Emerald Hill, which is tricky to play.” The season also hopes to be a showcase for Hurley, who has aspirations of playing golf in college next season. “Knowing that I’m looking to play golf in college,” Hurley said, “I know this will be an important year for me. “You just have to keep level and work hard and take advantage of the things you can do to get better, and hopefully it all pays off.”

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