The beauty of golf is that it's a sport of a lifetime. I have a friend, for example, who shoots his age every time he plays. He's 86, and he's still somewhere around par most every time. You can't do that in baseball or football or basketball certainly. Maybe in tennis and bowling, but golf does seem unique that way.
But I've noticed since I've turned 50 almost six years ago, I've lost a good bit of distance off the tee and there sure are a lot more aches and pains these days. But does it have to be that way?
You look on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, and you see plenty of folks still playing events at a very high level. I had a chance to witness that firsthand at the recent Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. Surely, these guys are doing things other than hitting golf balls to maintain their level of play.
One thing all these players seem to have in common, though, is some sort of workout and/or stretching program to keep their fitness level high. Here are some tips, for a less painful and more successful golf game in your senior years:
1. Diet becomes even more important the older you get
Ask any nutritionist and they will tell you the same thing: Processed foods, especially sugar and white flour, cause inflammation. And inflammation causes pain throughout the body, especially the joints. Seniors, of course, are especially susceptible to joint pain as cartilage wears down in joints like the knees, etc. So it's a good idea not to encourage that inflammation, and one way to do that is to eat clean.
It really isn't so much about counting calories as it is eating nutrient-dense natural food, as Larry Jacobs, a nutrition coach (Weight Loss for Golfers) who has worked with many PGA Tour Champions members as well as ordinary golfers to not only help their games, but turn around their health.
"The key is to learn to eat clean," Jacobs told me "It's not how much you eat. It's what you eat that matters most."
Video: Dietitian on nutrition advice before, during and after golf
2. Golf fitness: You've got to keep moving
You talk to PGA Tour Champions players and practically all of them will tell you that they do some sort of exercise and stretching regularly. Rocco Mediate, for example, who has suffered through back problems over the years, does Pilates and works out several times a week.
"I work just as hard, and just as long as when I played on the tour," said Mediate, 54. "The competition is so tough, it requires me to keep that same work ethic I used on the PGA Tour."
Yoga is also an excellent exercise for golfers in general, especially senior golfers. I have another friend who started getting into Yoga heavily right after he retired. It's done wonders for his performance: He has lost weight, gained more speed and flexibility in both tennis and golf and is living more pain free. A good reference here would be "Yoga for Golfers," by Katherine Roberts.
And of course, we all know what fitness has done for Gary Player's career. The nine-time major winner can still do more push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups than most 18-year-olds.
3. Consider nutritional supplements
There are many supplements out there that support good joint health, and if you're a senior, this might be a good time to consider such a product. Mediate recently agreed to represent a company called Osteo Bi-Flex, which makes several formulas that do just that. He credits Osteo Bi-Flex with helping him play pain free. I also tried the product (been taking the Joint Formula Gummies, along with some other supplements) and did notice less pain and more flexibility in joints as well.
So how, exactly, does this stuff work? According to Jason Poquette, a registered pharmacist and spokesman for Osteo Bi-Flex, the products contain ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin, which aid joint health. The Osteo Bi-Flex line also includes a proprietary Joint Shield formulation that includes AKBA (acetyl-keto-beta-boswellic acid), which helps with occasional joint flare-ups.
4. Maximum performance: Get custom fit for your clubs
Sometimes clubfitting can be a bit overrated, but not in the case of aging golfers. It's not only about swing speed, but also about comfort and joint health here, too. One of the best things I did recently was switch from steel shafts in my irons to graphite, which is a lot easier on my hands and elbows. Plus, it's a lighter shaft, so I've regained any distance that I might have been losing with my last set of irons.
Just as important, if not more so, is shaft flex. After being fitted recently at Tour Fit Golf Labs at Tiburon Golf Club in Naples, I'm playing a softer stiff shaft, which is just above regular. It's helped me regain about 15 yards on my drives, which makes a difference on your approach shots. I'd certainly rather be hitting 7-, 8- and 9-irons into greens rather than hybrids, 5- and 6-irons.
5. Peak mobility: Stretch before you play
If your warmup routine consists of hitting a few balls on the range before playing, you might want to consider adding to that. In fact, as a senior it's entirely possible you could injure yourself on the range before a round if you don't properly stretch. And between the two, most physio types would recommend stretching over hitting balls before a round if you only have time to one.
"Since flexibility naturally declines with age, it is also important for senior golfers to really focus on a strong warm-up routine to help prevent injuries," Poquette said.
I personally like to use something called the Orange Whip before I play to make slow swings, then generally increase my speed before I hit balls or my first tee shot. But performing some other stretches is most beneficial as well. Here's a good guide from the Mayo Clinic. (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/multimedia/golf-stretches/sls-20076248)
Video: 3 great stretches before you play golf
6. Don't underestimate weight training
And finally, don't underestimate the strength of weight training (I couldn't resist). As we get older, muscles deteriorate at a much higher rate, so it's important to use resistance training to help keep muscle definition and strength. Free weights are generally considered best, but other options include TRX (which uses your own body weight) and weight machines. You don't want to try to lift too much, but a good routine of strength training will really help you maintain or even improve distance on the course.
There are all kinds of strength training programs you can follow, but you'll probably want to choose one that is specific to golf. For example, strengthening the glutes is very important to a good golf swing. If you're really serious, you can check out the Exos Golf Experience in Phoenix, a collaboration between the elite Exos training program and Troon Golf.