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Athletes Continue To Play In Twilight Years

Phil Inglis
Getty Images

Because of a pinched nerve in his wrist, Kansas City’s Tom Watson is sitting out this week’s Senior PGA Championship, a tournament he won a year ago. It gets underway Thursday in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Watson has become an ageless wonder more commonly found in professional sports today. Chances are you’ll hear more about Watson and other athletes succeeding in their twilight years.

In 2009, at the age of 59, Tom Watson nearly won his sixth British Open. But playing against Stewart Cink, who’s 23 years younger, Watson lost in a four-hole playoff.

"It was a hell of a week. It would have been a heck of a story, wouldn’t it?," said Watson after the loss.

But the 2011 victory at the Senior PGA Championship marked Watson’s 14th career major and his sixth since turning 50.

Presenter: "It is my privilege, on behalf of 27,000 men and women professionals of the PGA of America, to present you with the Alfred S. Bourne trophy. Well done."
Tom Watson: "Thank you. Pretty good for an old geezer."
Presenter: "That's right."
Tom Watson: "This thing is heavy." (Cheers from the audience)

Once Watson, now 62, is over his wrist injury, he has five tournaments over a six-week stretch this summer. This includes two against the PGA Tour regulars who are 20 or 30 years younger than him.

Paul McGannon, founder of Sports Rehabilitation and Therapy in Overland Park, Kan., has worked with Tom Watson. He says he wouldn’t be surprised to see Watson win again.

"I think it’s definitely achievable," says McGannon. He attributes another potential victory to Watson’s drive and willingness to remain in top physical condition.

"We’re seeing life expectancy getting up to your 80's now, so I think as long as he or anyone continues to be dedicated and focused both mentally and the physical part follows there’s no end to it."

Though he’s sidelined from this week’s Senior PGA Championship, it hasn’t stopped Watson from working out.

"I work on stretching, aerobics, leg strengthening, flexibility. There’s a variety of things. Abs, mid-section," says Watson. "That’s something you have to do at my age, I tell you."

Watson has become wiser as the years of competitive golf have piled up.  It’s the same reason, Paul McGannon says, that 49-year old Jamie Moyer, a pitcher for the Colorado Rockies, is winning.

"No question about it," says McGannon. "I mean that what gives those individuals a competitive edge because they’ve put at the highest level of priority their physical well-being and their mental well-being.  The first step to physical well-being is getting your mental well-being on the right page and just saying, ‘I have to do this.’"

Watson competed at the Masters last month as the oldest player in the field. The PGA’s Champions Tour allows players 50 and over to continue their careers.  Because of that, Watson believes someone 50 and over will win a major against the best who are 20 or 30 years younger.

"There’s always that probability," says Watson. "It’s not a question. It’s a probability it’s going to happen."

Watson still isn’t ruling himself out.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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