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7 tips for senior golfers to play better and enjoy the game longer

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Have you ever played a golf course and remembered where you used to hit the ball on certain holes? Have you ever gotten to a 360-yard par-4 and recalled when you used to lick your chops because you knew a little flip wedge for your second was ahead? Ever made shooting your age your next big goal? If you have, welcome to golf’s back nine, the time when you keep seeking improvement knowing full well it will never be what it once was.

Aging is another vivid example of the paradoxical beast that lies at the heart of our game. If we’re totally honest, we admit we can’t do anything as well as we did 25-30 years ago. Yet a little voice never far from our golf ears keeps whispering, “If you just move the ball in your stance and adjust your grip, you will hit it solid again.” That’s when we need to be honest and ask, “What does solid mean at 65-70-75 years old?” It certainly isn’t solid like it was at 35 years old, but it may be more solid than the last shot, or yesterday. And as we’ll see, it just might be solid enough for the home stretch. So we keep playing and practicing in a search for golf’s version of a fountain of youth.

If you are, like this author, closer to the 18th green than the first tee, here are 7 golden nuggets for the golden years:

1. Forget how you used to play

Stay present and take what the game gives you now, here, today. If that’s 210 off the tee, get your fairway woods and hybrids out and do the best you can with your inevitably longer approach.

2. Work on your scoring game

If aging has robbed you of flexibility and strength, it does not have to affect your game from 100 yards in. Seniors need to chip and putt more than any other age group.

3. Yoga and Pilates

If you think we’re old, we are a babe in the woods compared to these ancient disciplines. The mind/body connection is vital for seniors. And… the results speak for themselves! Staying as flexible and as strong as you can for as long as you can is vital for senior golf. Oh, and walk and carry whenever possible!

4. Get properly fitted

Not only do we play senior golf dreaming of yesteryear, male seniors often let testosterone affect their game. I get sooo many seniors coming to see me who are ill-fitted for their equipment, or more accurately, using equipment that once fit their game85-90 mph clubhead speed does not likely require a stiff shaft, 9 degrees of loft or 75 grams of weight to achieve proper launch and landing conditions. Good senior golf demands brutal honesty with yourself.

5. Consider swing “adjustments,” not “new swings”

I don’t want to be a bearer of bad tidings here, but as a teacher of many years, I know this much: The swing you’ve had for oh so many years is not going to change. At least not very much. The does not mean it can’t be made more effective. I “tweak” seniors, not break them down.

6. Play forward tees

I’m a club professional, and I was a fairly decent player once. At 70 years young, I am proud to say that I play white tees measuring no more than 6300 yards. And in a few years, I’ll likely move up again. It’s just a fact of life and denying it is futile.

7. Check your fundamentals

Just because a certain grip, posture or ball position was effective once, as we age, all these may need adjustments from time to time. Swings get shorter, slower, narrow, etc. And as they do, we have to allow for these things and find new ways to complement the “senior swing.”

The alternative to all of the above is a garage sale. And as long I can swing a golf club, I will be doing so. If I want to enjoy the game, I’ll do so with lighter clubs, from shorter tees, chipping and putting my way into the hole. We’d all like to turn back the clock, but the last time that happened was, uh, never.

Enjoy the back nine. I know I am.

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

26 Comments

26 Comments

  1. Greta James

    Jun 2, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you so much for informing me that a golfer’s swing can change as they age, so be sure to check grip and posture to make adjustments as needed. My dad has loved watching golfing and is now trying to become a great golfer. However, he mentioned that he is having a hard time reading the green. I wonder if there is a technology that could help him with this skill to improve his amateur game.

  2. A. Commoner

    Sep 21, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Dennis Clark deserves many accolades for his work. But if an experienced golfer with a functioning brain can’t come up with these “tips” on his own, then he needs to give it up.

  3. don Ho

    Sep 19, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    All great comments but to add to article, #8 understand the state of the art equipment thats coming out these days, quite remarkable. You have the correct swingweight, shaft weight and flex, a softer ball, stronger lofts on irons, it can literally take 10 years off your game. I play with all ages, and for the most part they are trying to keep up with me. I have nothing to prove, I was never a club pro etc. but quite consistent, I remember hitting the TM Burner Bubble, Stiff, 10.5, 90 gram shaft 300 yds at least twice a round. Golf is the most fun anyone over 50 can have without “killing themselves”, ie you not going to drown, get thrown down a mountain, take two weeks to recover (marathon running). Its always a good day when I’m golfing.

    • ogo

      Sep 20, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      You are exceptionally good, while the rest of us fear regressing into the 90’s and bogey-plus golf. I just carry fewer clubs and manage the course with shorter shots regardless of the course distances. Control is everything.

  4. steven

    Sep 19, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    Found a mint used PING G2 driver, 15.5º loft, 400cc with a stock PING TFC 100D Soft Regular shaft for a total length of 47 inches from sole to butt. Thank goodness I have a smooth 80mph swing and 200+yard drive. I can crank it faster but the shaft is too soft. I will keep this beauty in my bag until I stop. I’m 79 y.o., 6’4″, 170lbs strong and I still play singles tennis in the winter. Btw, the driver COR exceeds 0.83 because the loft was greater than 15º.

  5. Bob Jones

    Sep 19, 2018 at 4:10 pm

    Ken Venturi said when being interviewed by David Feherty and looking at a picture of his young man’s swing, “I’d give anything to swing like that again. But I swung like that once, so I guess that’s enough.”

    My game is the same as it’s always been–very straight and good around the green. Except now that I’m 69 it’s somewhat shorter, but that’s OK. I move up to the next set of tees and score just as well and have just as much fun.

    • ShSh

      Sep 20, 2018 at 2:35 am

      You old folks shouldn’t even be on a website like this sheesh

  6. Tom

    Sep 19, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    I might suggest one additional tip, carry a flask of “swing oil” and take a nip every 3rd hole or so…..

    • shawn

      Sep 20, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      … to drown your swing sorrows??!!!

    • James

      Sep 22, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      I carry a canister of “Italian Sports Drink”. The golf course doesn’t know but my friends do. Pinot Grigio. Zero sips for a bogey or worse. 1 sip for a par. 2 sips for a birdie. Eagle? I empty the canister!

  7. Jorge Nigrete

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Awesome advice for senior golfers who want to stay involved and aware of their capabilities as they age.

    • shawn

      Sep 20, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      … but ‘golfers’ are living a delusion on the golf course!!!

  8. Scheiss

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    I’m 2 years away from 50. I’m still playing the back tees with the kids, most of the courses we play are at or over 7000 yards. I still play to scratch and give the young ones a good game.
    As soon as I turn 50, I am moving up to the next tee, and yet I will not be giving any shots to those same kids. They can suck it lol
    So I will be playing from tees that are anywhere from 6500 to 6800 on the big courses. On the shorter courses, the kids are at the 6500 on the back tees and the next tees are at about 6000. Reasonable.
    That’s what makes this game so great.
    If you can’t deal with your ego being crushed, you picked the wrong game. Go fishing or something and leave us real gamers alone, because you clearly don’t appreciate this game for its nuances

    • Acemandrake

      Sep 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      The “ego crusher” comment was meant to be humorous.

      I appreciate the nuances of the game & will be sure to leave “real gamers alone”. 🙂

    • oppie

      Sep 21, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      …. and a good “scheiss” to you …. 🙁

  9. LD

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Really good article. Thanks for the great information.

  10. Jim K

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:27 pm

    I fully agree that as golfers get older and shorter off the tee they should move up to forward tees. Unfortunately, too many golf courses fail to offer reasonable teeing options. I’ve seen way too many courses where the whites are 6300yds and the next tees up are 5500. One is too long and the other too short.

    • Acemandrake

      Sep 19, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      This is the truth.

      Given such a choice I will play the longer course but will adjust my expectations (ie: Bogey is the new par!).

      • ogo

        Sep 20, 2018 at 5:43 pm

        Then you needn’t carry a driver and be happy with 3-wood driving distances. In fact, you could prolly play the course in bogey golf with a 175 yard hybrid as your longest club. Try it.. you’ll be surprised… if you can manage properly.

    • Stan

      Sep 19, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      Can not agree more. It seems I’m too often kidded about no more senior tees for you from my younger playing partners or hitting nothing but 3 wood or 3 hybrid while they’re hitting medium or short irons to reach the green. Right for me (at age 70) seems to be 5800 to 6000 yards, not 5500 or 6300.

  11. Myron miller

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    A lot of excellent suggestions. I’m in my 70s and most assuredly don’t hit it as far or play as well. but I still have a decent short game, can chip and putt exceptionally and that can keep my scores down. And i can’t emphasize the use of game management, woods and laying up in strategic distances and positions. makes the game a lot easier. Sometimes I wish I’d learned these much earlier.

    Adapted swing to body issues rather than new swing.

    Could easily overpower course when younger now i sneak up on them.

  12. Acemandrake

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:09 pm

    All good points; especially playing forward tees (still an ego crusher). Also, there’s no excuse for not improving the short game.

    Tip #1 (“Forget how you use to play”) is easier said than done…I have a 20 year old mind & a 60 year old body 🙂

  13. joro

    Sep 19, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Good info, describes me to a tee. I used to ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, right says my buddy, used to. This is now, enjoy it while you still can. Would a Lobotomy help?

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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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The Wedge Guy: The 5 indisputable rules of bunker play

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I received a particularly interesting question this week from Art S., who said he has read all the tips about how to hit different sand shots, from different sand conditions, but it would be helpful to know why. Specifically, here’s what Art had to say:

“I recently found myself in a few sand traps in multiple lies and multiple degrees of wetness. I tried remembering all of the “rules” of how to stand, how much to open my club, how much weight to shift forward or back, etc. based on the Golf Channel but was hoping that you might be able to do a blog on the ‘why’ of sand play so that we can understand it rather than memorizing what to do. Is there any way you can discuss what the club is doing and why you open the club, open your stance, what you’re aiming for when you open up, and any other tips?”

Well, Art, you asked a very good question, so let’s try to cover the basics of sand play–the “geometry and physics” at work in the bunkers–and see if we can make all of this more clear for you.

First of all, I think bunkers are among the toughest of places to find your ball. We see the tour players hit these spectacular bunker shots every week, but realize that they are playing courses where the bunkers are maintained to PGA Tour standards, so they are pretty much the same every hole and every week. This helps the players to produce the “product” the tour is trying to deliver–excitement. Of course, those guys also practice bunker play every day.

All of us, on the other hand, play courses where the bunkers are different from one another. This one is a little firmer, that one a little softer. So, let me see if I can shed a little light on the “whys and wherefores” of bunker play.

The sand wedge has a sole with a downward/backward angle built into it – we call that bounce. It’s sole (no pun intended) function is to provide a measure of “rejection” force or lift when the club makes contact with the sand. The more bounce that is built into the sole of the wedge, the more this rejection force is applied. And when we open the face of the wedge, we increase the effective bounce so that this force is increased as well.

The most basic thing you have to assess when you step into a bunker is the firmness of the sand. It stands to reason that the firmer the texture, the more it will reject the digging effect of the wedge. That “rejection quotient” also determines the most desirable swing path for the shot at hand. Firmer sand will reject the club more, so you can hit the shot with a slightly more descending clubhead path. Conversely, softer or fluffier sand will provide less rejection force, so you need to hit the shot with a shallower clubhead path so that you don’t dig a trench.

So, with these basic principles at work, it makes sense to remember these “Five Indisputable Rules of Bunker Play”

  1. Firmer sand will provide more rejection force – open the club less and play the ball back a little to steepen the bottom of the clubhead path.
  2. Softer sand will provide less rejection force – open the club more and play the ball slighter further forward in your stance to create a flatter clubhead path through the impact zone.
  3. The ball will come out on a path roughly halfway between the alignment of your body and the direction the face is pointing – the more you open the face, the further left your body should be aligned.
  4. On downslope or upslope lies, try to set your body at right angles to the lie, so that your swing path can be as close to parallel with the ground as possible, so this geometry can still work. Remember that downhill slopes reduce the loft of the club and uphill slopes increase the loft.
  5. Most recreational golfers are going to hit better shots from the rough than the bunkers, so play away from them when possible (unless bunker play is your strength).

So, there you go, Art. I hope this gives you the basics you were seeking.

As always, I invite all of you to send in your questions to be considered for a future article. It can be about anything related to golf equipment or playing the game–just send it in. You can’t win if you don’t ask!

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