At What Age Do Golfer’s Reach Their Peak?

Reported by Matthew Thomas

Zach Johnson’s fine win at the 144th Open Championship was his second major triumph. The American beat Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in the deciding play-off to claim his first claret jug. The Championship almost produced the third major of the calendar year for Jordan Spieth who finished just one shot shy of the playoff. The 21 year old Texan will have to wait another 12 months to try and emulate the great Bobby Jones, the only player to have won the Calendar Gram slam (all four majors in the same year).

Indeed we have to go back 33 years for the last time the American’s held all four majors in the same year.

Year Masters U.S. Open The Open Championship US PGA
1982 Craig Stadler Tom Watson Tom Watson Raymond Floyd

With Jordan Spieth’s two major wins so early in his career and seemingly Jonhson producing his best golf towards the end of his, raises the question at what age to golfers reach their peak?

According to expert analyst Chris Mills, “golf is undoubtedly a game in which you never stop learning and experience is a hugely valuable asset. The maturity that comes with advancing age is also of considerable benefit in golf. Patience and composure are important factors in playing good golf and these qualities tend to be associated with greater maturity”

Certainly the PGA tour statistics support Mills’ claim. The tour data takes into account the ages of the top 100 players in the world rankings and rates them based on a calculation of their average shots per tournament with the difficulty of the course and standard of the field factored in. Simply put, the lower the average score per round the better performing the age bracket are.

Age bracket No of players Rating
Aged under 25  18 players  Average rating 71.43
Aged 25 to 30  43 players  Average rating 71.28
Aged 30 to 35  60 players  Average rating 71.25
Aged 35 to 40  42 players  Average rating 70.92
Aged 40 to 45  25 players  Average rating 70.94
Aged over 45  12 players  Average rating 71.08

Certainly the sheer weight of numbers is telling. The 30-35 year age group has the largest number of players in the world’s top 100. Zach Johnson’s open win at 39 was seen by some sections of the media as a win in the twilight of his career. Jack Nicklaus’ win at the 1986 Masters aged 46 was regarded as an “impossible feat” and remains the oldest winner of a major.  Impossible or not the numbers paint a slightly different picture. The 40-45 year age group average score is only marginally lower (0.02) than the 30-35 year group indicating that if you can remain fit and healthy players are capable of producing the highest level of performance not just in their late thirties but well into their early 40s.

Increasingly pundits are questioning Tiger Woods ability to reproduce the sort of form that saw him win 14 major championships. But with only 9 months separating Johnson and Woods in terms of age maybe there is renewed hope for one of the greatest players of all time. Many would point to the fact that Woods hasn’t won a major since the US Open in 2008. However seven years spanned Zach Jonhson’s two major wins so Tiger’s persistent attempts to rediscover his old form suddenly don’t appear so futile.

Whatever the history books tell us one thing is for sure, golfing careers can have a real longevity that other sports can’t match. There is no doubt players are benefitting from the limitless improvement of club and ball technology aligned with better awareness of performance factors like diet, flexibility and injury prevention. Golf is proving, unlike so many sports, that age is simply a number.

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