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Have we seen the last of the late bloomers?

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By Dan Ross

GolfWRX Contributor

It might be said that there has been a wonderful tradition of “late bloomers” in professional golf. Depending on your interpretation, such players might include (in no particular order) Ben Hogan, Vijay Singh, Larry Nelson, K.J. Choi, Kenny Perry, Fred Funk and Steve Stricker. You could even stretch things further and mention players like Jay Haas and Loren Roberts, who one could argue played their strongest golf upon joining the Champions Tour later in their careers, while showing no real hints of dominating play during their years on the PGA Tour, despite owning solid resumes.

“Late bloomer” can be defined a few different ways. For our purposes, let’s focus on two particular interpretations.

  • Those career pros who win the majority of their tournaments in the  middle and later stages of their career.
  • Those who take up the game relatively “late,” and then moved quickly to playing golf at the highest levels, OR those who reach the PGA Tour at a point that might be characterized as “mid-career” for others.

Ben Hogan could serve as an example of the first definition. Strange as it may sound, it took Mr. Hogan nearly ten years on the professional circuit before he won his first tournament on the PGA Tour. Even more interesting, is that his first major championship victory came an additional six years after his first professional win. The vast majority of Mr. Hogan’s tour wins (nearly 50 out of 64 total) and ALL of his nine major championship victories came after he turned thirty years old.

For the second definition, I feel K.J. Choi might be a good example. Mr. Choi earned his first PGA Tour win in 2002, at age 32. His most recent and highest profile victory at the Player’s Championship (arguably the strongest non-major tournament in golf) came just shy of 40 years old. Throughout his thirties, Choi has earned eight professional wins on the PGA Tour.

However, let’s narrow the focus a little further from here. Rightly or wrongly, the current point of measure of a PGA Tour professional’s career is the number of major championships they have won. With this in mind, perhaps the most recent example of a late bloomer (at least as far as major championships go) is Phil Mickelson. All of Mr. Mickelson’s four major wins have come in his thirties (his fourth title just shy of age 40), with his first in 2004 at the age of 33. To be fair, Mickelson already had a very strong career before his first major victory; long holding the title of “Best Player Without a Major.” This fact may or may not mitigate a description of Mickelson as a late bloomer in terms of overall career wins.

If you add in career wins and majors, Vijay Singh stands out as a strong recent example of a late bloomer; apart from Mr. Hogan, perhaps the strongest example. Despite having a successful early career on the European Tour, Singh earned ALL of his PGA Tour wins after turning 30. To date, that means 34 victories, including three majors. Additionally, Singh holds the most PGA Tour victories (22) after the age of 40.

So this leads to my ultimate question: Given the abundance of young talent on all of the major tours, is it possible we will still see examples of late blooming professionals to the same degree as we have seen previously? A few other golfers in their 30s include Nick Watney, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and Jason Dufner — will these golfers produce a mid-career streak like Hogan? Will any of them win their first major before age 40?

Also, we can’t count out the forty-somethings on Tour. This list now includes Steve Stricker, K.J. Choi and Robert Allenby. These gentlemen represent a rare group of champion golfers who are still active after turning 40 without having earned a major. Will any of these pros earn a major title in their 40s like Singh did?

The notion of the late bloomer in professional golf is one of selfish optimism for many self-imposed amateurs in their 30s and 40s. It is a dirty and addictive (sometimes destructive) little thought we all entertain from time to time like when the boss is being hard to please or the kid’s braces take the cash you set aside for some new clubs, especially when you see some glimpse of previous form during a tournament. Those of us who showed very early promise in our teens and twenties only to see golf fall by the wayside as family and career responsibilities creep in cherish the idea that, if we didn’t have anything to lose otherwise, we “could make it in pro golf … if … ”

Ah, but it is the “if” that gets us every time! “If only I could putt better,” or “If only I could practice more,” and especially, “If only I had the time and money.” So instead, we come home after work and turn on the TV and wonder if we don’t have more in common with some of the (somewhat) older players on Tour who haven’t yet had breakthrough years.

So, who are YOUR choices to win big … late. Or, are late bloomers a thing of the past?

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

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GolfWRX is the world's largest and best online golf community. Expert editorial reviews, breaking golf tour and industry news, what to play, how to play and where to play. GolfWRX surrounds consumers throughout the buying, learning and enrichment process from original photographic and video content, to peer to peer advice and camaraderie, to technical how-tos, and more. As the largest online golf community we continue to protect the purity of our members opinions and the platform to voice them. We want to protect the interests of golfers by providing an unbiased platform to feel proud to contribute to for years to come. You can follow GolfWRX on Twitter @GolfWRX and on Facebook.

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Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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Why haven’t you been fit?

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“Why haven’t you been fit?”

It’s a question I pose to most golfers when talking about equipment.

This conversation usually starts on the course after a few holes when playing with random golfers of varying skill levels. As someone who has worked for years as a fitter and club builder, it doesn’t take long to determine the likelihood that a golfer was fit for their clubs; seeing poor shot tendencies develop and a quick look into someone’s golf bag can put the puzzle pieces together pretty quickly.

I’m not out to shame or annoy people, rather, I’m here to try to help! Thanks to most golfers now having an adjustable driver, it can be as simple as a few quick clicks of a wrench to see improvements.

Let’s take a look at the most common reasons for not getting fit and see if we can help with your next equipment purchase.

“I’m not good enough”

This is the most common answer I hear when it comes to fitting, and if you are are in any way serious about getting the most enjoyment out of your time on the course, a simple fitting should be part of that. A basic level fitting includes: getting the right grip size and texture, length adjustment, lie adjustment, and shaft flex—including shaft material (graphite or steel). If you are a stronger player, then steel is generally the way to go. For players looking for extra speed or some shock absorption, graphite will provide the best option. At this level, it’s all about building a set that is going to provide the best opportunity to hit good shots more often.

“I always thought it was expensive”

The perception that a custom fitting is expensive has been drawn out for too long.  Depending on where you are purchasing clubs, many retailers wave the cost of the process when purchasing. This can even include clubs that are being bought off the rack and getting basic adjustments. NOTE: You should expect to pay for grips if you decide to get them changed.

On the other side of the coin, getting custom fit top-to-bottom with the latest and greatest from an appointment-only independent shop is an expensive process. You should expect to pay close to $500 for the fitting, which will be on top of the cost of any clubs.

“I only buy used clubs”

This statement hits home. I love hunting down used clubs. However, the idea that used clubs can’t be fit is seriously misconstrued and often stems from the fact that with online shopping, we can’t talk to a knowledgeable person face-to-face and clubs are sold as-is. Considering the often large cost savings of purchasing used clubs, for just a bit extra, you can make sure they are just right for you.

The first option is available before you even start looking for used clubs: book a professional fitting—generally between $75 – $100 per “piece” of equipment; irons, driver and woods,  etc.—and buy used based on those specs. Just be sure to let your fitter know in advance you are just looking for your specs and will buying used. This can be an intimidating thing to say, but you should know it is a common practice.

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Everyone should have a set of clubs that allows them to get the most enjoyment from playing golf, and regardless of the avenue you take to purchasing your equipment, it doesn’t take much extra to make sure they are right for you.

 

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