2001: Excellent golf an ageless experience

Baseball players Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, two sure-fire future Hall of Famers, made their last appearances playing the game they love last weekend in Baltimore and San Diego, respectively.

Both are 41 years old, beyond their prime, ready to begin new chapters.

Across the globe at the Linde German Masters in Pulheim, Germany, 44-year-old Bernhard Langer was winning his 39th PGA European Tour event, collecting the biggest check of his career. It was his second victory of the season, one in which he played well enough to earn a spot on his 10th Ryder Cup team.

Funny, isn’t it, how the game of golf knows no age limitations. On the same weekend a 44-year-old was winning in Germany, a 21-year-old, Dorothy Delasin, was prevailing over the top names in the women’s game at the LPGA’s Samsung World Championship; a 22-year-old, Charles Howell III, was finishing third at the PGA Tour’s Michelob Championship; and at the same event, 17-year-old high school junior Ty Tryon was making his pro debut.

There comes a time in every sport where older players must move aside, making room for the new. In golf, however, the boundaries are harder to define (see Nicklaus, Jack; 1986 Masters). On the PGA Tour and LPGA, the fortysomethings, to their competitive credit, do not go quietly into that good night. Good for them.

Langer, who has six top-10 finishes in the United States this season, including a third at The Players Championship and a tie for sixth at the Masters, is not alone in making a bold statement for the 40-plus crowd.

Earlier this season, Mark Calcavecchia, then 40, broke a 46-year-old PGA Tour scoring record in Phoenix, shooting 256. He also earned a spot on his first Ryder Cup team in a decade. And Scott Hoch continues to piece together one of the most unheralded careers in the history of the game. Hoch, who will be 46 in November, is enjoying his best season on Tour, having won twice. He ranks fifth on the PGA Tour money list and will join Calcavecchia as a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

On the LPGA, Rosie Jones and Juli Inkster, both 41, continue to be impact players.

At the same time, we should be equally, if not more impressed with the young talent that has made such an instant imprint on the game. Howell, who began the season with no status on Tour, finds himself gunning for a spot in the Tour Championship. David Gossett, who won the John Deere Classic, and Matt Kuchar, both of whom are not far removed from the college ranks, have earned PGA Tour cards for 2002 by making the most of their limited opportunities in 2001.

Delasin’s victory was the third of her career. She turned 21 in August.

As these young pros make their way into the “club,” it’s refreshing to know established veterans aren’t willing to gently step aside. It makes for great competition – and in professional golf, or golf at any level, that’s what makes the world go ’round.

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