Golden Oldies Langer? Woosnam? Price? The strong showing by fortysomethings continued a trend

July 29, 2001

Age must have been on Brad Faxon's mind last Friday when he came
off the 18th green after his second round at Royal Lytham and St.
Annes. "A 17-year-old is leading the B.C. Open!" he said,
referring to Florida teenager Ty Tryon and the PGA Tour event
that Faxon had won for the last two years. "Can you believe
that?" To Faxon, who will turn 40 on Aug. 1, the news was
unsettling. It was as if he had come home to find Tryon in his
living room, wearing his clothes and reading bedtime stories to
his three daughters, ages five through 12.

So you can understand why Faxon, who was already bracing himself
for black balloons and black birthday cards, was caught by
surprise on Saturday when his 48-year-old playing partner, Des
Smyth, shot a one-under-par 70 and beat him by four shots, and
why he might have been a little unnerved to find himself six
shots behind a group of third-round co-leaders that included
Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam, both 43. Life begins at 40? Not
in golf. Forty is when your engine starts to sputter and sportier
models start to pass you with alarming ease.

However, a new trend has developed, if you haven't noticed. Faxon
got the has-beens going in January by winning the Sony Open in
Honolulu. That warmed a hot water bottle under Mark Calcavecchia,
who was facing his 41st birthday when he beat a stellar field the
following week at the Phoenix Open. Calc's win, in turn, inspired
Scott Hoch (cradle of '55), who won the ninth and 10th events of
his 22-year Tour career, the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic
and the Advil Western Open. And the B.C. Open was eventually won
by 43-year-old Jeff Sluman, who now has five Tour victories,
three of them coming after he turned 40.

Here's the thing about these old guys: They think they can still
win majors. The Senior tour's Tom Kite, who will be 52 in
December, tied for fifth at the U.S. Open in June, and former PGA
champ Mark Brooks, 40, almost won the damn thing, losing to
Retief Goosen in an 18-hole playoff.

Was it that much of a stretch, then, for 44-year-old Mark
O'Meara, who won both the Masters and the British Open only three
years ago, to think he could prevail again at Lytham? "I've won
this championship," O'Meara said after a second-round 69 left him
four strokes behind leader Colin Montgomerie. "Maybe I can do
well on some of those memories."

Ah, memories--there's a loaded word if you're fortysomething.
Langer's storied past includes two Masters championships (in 1985
and '93) and the national title of practically every country in
Europe, but going into last week he had never won the British
Open in 23 tries. Woosnam, the 1991 Masters champ, was 0 for 19
in British Opens and winless on the European tour since 1997, and
the sight of him nervously sucking on a cigarette outside the
clubhouse last Saturday did not inspire confidence. "Obviously,
when you're not playing well you get fed up running all over the
world bashing your head against the wall," said Woosnam.

Smyth, a seven-time Euro tour winner, had a rosier perspective.
The breezy Irishman has cracked the top 100 on the European money
list only once in the last five years, but he went 18 under par
in March to win the Madeira Island Open and become the oldest
winner in European tour history at 48 years, 34 days. In 20
previous British Opens, Smyth had played on the weekend only five
times, but there he was on Sunday afternoon, winking at reporters
and teeing off with only two strokes separating him from the
leaders.

"I suppose you're more at peace with yourself, not as driven," he
said, trying to explain why the washed-up were cleaning up at
Lytham. "When you're young, the desire is so strong that a couple
of disappointments can crush you. When you're my age, you're used
to seeing things go wrong. You don't discourage so easily."

Still, it was startling, when the dust had settled on Saturday,
to see the leader board dotted with men who remember
black-and-white television, Harold Macmillan and Janis Ian's At
Seventeen. Some credited their success to the course, which
rewarded accuracy more than power. ("This course isn't about
brute strength," said Faxon. "You've got to think your way
around, and hopefully you do that better when you're older.")
Others pointed out that the old guys, with the exception of
Smyth, had won majors and thus knew they could hold up under
pressure. "Experience does help," said Nick Price, 44, whose
third-round 68 left him a stroke off the lead and raised hopes
that he might win a fourth major before giving in to senility.
"But there's a lot of water under the bridge since I won at
Turnberry seven years ago. My nerves are a bit more fragile."

Faxon, who had weekend rounds of 74-75 and finished 47th,
followed the progress of the fortysomethings with more than
passing interest. "When you're 27, you think it's never going to
end," he said, "but this is my 18th year on Tour. There's a sense
that maybe time is running out." Then he considered Langer and
Price and Woosnam, who still have bounce in their strides, and
O'Meara, who didn't win a major until he was in his fifth decade,
and the future didn't look so dark.

"I learned something last week at the CVS Charity Classic," Faxon
said. "I played with Gary Player, who is 65, and Billy Andrade
played with Arnold Palmer, who is 70. You know who were the only
two guys to hit balls after the round? Player and Palmer." Asked
why he thought the two legends continued to work so hard at an
age when most men suck their teeth for exercise, Faxon shrugged
and said, "Why did Larry Bird dive after balls? They want to be
great; they always want to do their best."

Faxon sounded as if he was ready to buy into the saw that "age is
only a state of mind," but you couldn't blame him, not last week.
Forty was fashionable again. Copper bracelets and long putters
were au courant, and the only teens making noise were Liverpool
youngsters begging for the autographs of graybeards.

Forty was exciting, too. In the next-to-last pairing on Sunday,
Woosnam smacked his ball to within six inches on the par-3 1st
hole and tapped in for an apparent share of the lead. Minutes
later he hurled a driver off the 2nd tee, having discovered that
he had a 15th club in his bag and thus two penalty strokes on his
scorecard. "I never shook it off," he said afterward, but the
little pub brawler fought back with an eagle and three birdies
and finished in a six-way tie for third at 278. Langer also wound
up at 278, though his 71 was more of a bore than a battle. No one
noticed him until he strolled onto the final green with less
urgency than a Blackpool sunbather.

The happiest of the bunch? That would be Smyth, who earned an
exemption into next year's Open by shooting 71 for a share of
13th place. "I can still play!" he said in disbelief. "I'm
thrilled with my week. I didn't think I'd get this again, to be
honest."

By "this" he meant the charge, the buzz, the high that
accompanies a better-than-expected performance in a major. Price
didn't get that buzz this time--he submitted a weary 73 on
Sunday and finished 21st--and neither did Faxon, whose check for
10,629[pounds] ($15,199) probably didn't even cover expenses for
him and Dory, his wife of nearly a year. Faxon, though, had to
be heartened by the play of the over-40s at the 130th Open
Championship. When the time comes for him to blow out his own 40
candles, he could use what his peers had in abundance at Royal
Lytham: a second wind.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK HAVING A BLAST At age 48 a grateful Smyth qualified for next year's British Open with his 13th-place finish at Royal Lytham. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK YOUNG AT HEART The success of all those old-timers inspired Faxon, who will turn 40 on Aug. 1.

"When you're young, a couple of disappointments can crush you,"
said Smyth. "When you're my age, you don't discourage so easily."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)