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Late Bloomers

Vijay Singh led the way but in 2009 Kenny Perry and Steve Stricker showed up the PGA Tour’s youngsters
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010

The Young Guns of the PGA Tour were locked and loaded to start the 2009 season.

Anthony Kim, Camillo Villegas, Adam Scott, Aaron Baddeley, the 20-somethings with wicked games, were poised to move to the top of the world rankings leaderboard and join Tiger and Phil in the chase for greatness.

Didn't happen.

Instead the 20-somethings were trumped by two 40-somethings, in an age-before-beauty contest in which Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry were the hands-down winners. Kim, Villegas, Scott, Baddeley all failed to win even a single event. Stricker, in the 42nd year of his life, won three times, banked $6,332,000 and moved to third in the Official World Golf Rankings. Perry, in the 49th year of his life, won two times, pocketed $4,400,400 and moved to 10th in the world rankings.

Tiger Woods won five times in 2009 (though no majors) and was voted Player of the Year by his peers again, even after his personal meltdown after the end of the season. Phil Mickelson had an up and down year interrupted by the breast cancer diagnoses of both his wife and mother. He finished off strongly, winning the Tour Championship and HSBC World Golf Championship event in China.

Woods and Mickelson, however, are the expected ones, great players in the prime of their professional careers. Who was expecting Stricker or Perry? Surely they had played well in recent seasons, but to have outperformed all the young guns so resoundingly, to have won five times between them and to continue to occupy exalted spaces in the top 10 in the world? At their age? It might have been a bit much to imagine.

As modest as both men are, their records speak for themselves. Stricker and Perry were competitive throughout the season and Perry was coming off another successful season in 2008. When the golf world continually looks for new blood, there's healthy blood still running through these old veins.

Call it the Vijay Singh effect. Singh is the most successful player in his 40s of all time, passing the legendary Sam Snead. Of Singh's 34 victories, he won 22 of them after the age of 40. Snead had 17 victories and Perry is now third on the 40s list with 11.

Singh is the prime example of players over 40 on the PGA Tour who have extended their prime. Fred Funk, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin, Woody Austin and Tommy Armour III have won tournaments in their 40s and have stayed competitive despite the onslaught of the 20-somethings from the American college golf prep schools. Ernie Els turned 40 last October and there's little doubt he'll win again.

You can give a lot of credit to better conditioning and modern equipment for leveling the age playing field, but certainly belief is a huge reason why players in their 40s don't feel they have to move aside for some youth movement. Singh and his compatriots need only look back to Jack Nicklaus winning the Masters at 46, at Hale Irwin winning his third U.S. Open at 44.

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