REVEALED: Are golfers really getting older?

Life begins at 30 in men’s golf.
Tiger Woods is one of just four 40+ winners since 2000.
34 is the most common age for champions in the men’s game.
Golf stars peak later than other sports.
Physiology expert predicts average ages will continue to rise.

Graphics and text: Blue Claw©

Golfers enjoy greater longevity than any other sportsmen/women, with a new study showing how players enjoy more success later in their careers.

Sport is traditionally seen as a young person’s game, but golf is proof that age is no barrier when it comes to success at the highest level.

Finishing on a High breaks down the data behind the champions to show how sports stars are enjoying longer careers at the top and uses the data to offer an insight into the next crop of stars who could dominate their respective sports.

Research shows that the peak age of a male major winner in golf since the turn of the century is 31, while there have been a huge 71% (57 out of 80) major champions over the age of 30 since 2000.

Compared to tennis, where there have been just 17 winners of Grand Slams over the age of 30 in the same period, it is clear to see that golfers enjoy a later peak in their careers.

There has been a trend in recent years that has seen a younger crop of winners come through, lowering the average age since 2017 to 29 thanks to the impact of players such as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, but the return to form of Tiger Woods could stop that pattern from developing further.

The Open has emerged as the major of choice for the more seasoned pros, with an average winning age of 33 and three winners over the age of 40 in the last 19 years - all three of whom came in succession in 2011, 2012, 2013 with Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson triumphant.

The most common age for a major winner is 34, with 11 winners of that age since 2000, while 35 and 36 are also popular ages for golfers, proving that they do peak beyond the average age of a professional athlete - which tends to be in the mid-20s for other sports.

Unlike tennis, which sees stars break through in their early 20s, golfers don’t tend to taste major success until around 24, and they enjoy the best years of their careers from 28-36 - what is usually considered the autumn of a sporting career.

Age bracket of male major winners

          20-25 (16%)
          26-30 (29%)
          31-35 (30%)
          36-40 (19%)
          41+ (6%)

(Full breakdowns of each sport, year by year are available)

Female golfers on the other hand enjoy a much earlier peak and are at their best at 26, with six teenage major winners and just four over 40 since 2000.

Jacky Forsyth, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at Staffordshire University, supported the idea that professional athletes can continue to peak for longer now than ever before.

“Most research suggests that performance decline occurs around the age of 50 for both men and women,” she told GiG.

Oldest sports by peak age (male and female champions since 2000)

          Boxing - 31
          Formula 1 - 29
          Golf - 29
          Road Cycling - 28
          Sprinting - 25
          Tennis – 25

(Full breakdowns of each sport, year by year are available)

“Already, the age for being at peak is getting older – maybe this is more to do with a societal change than a technological/treatment change.

“There have been medical advancements and we have a better understanding of how the body responds and adapts to training. There is also the idea that, for endurance sports, an older age is preferable since, with ageing, the body responds more to endurance training in terms of muscle tissue and cellular adaptation.”

Finishing on a High suggests that John Rahm could be the next player to break his major duck. The Spaniard turns 25 later this year and after going close at three of the four majors in the last two years, is well-placed to kick-start his career and follow the trend that sees players win most tournaments between 25 and 35.

Six individual sports are broken down by age to consider future prospects and look at which players have also defied their age to enjoy success beyond the average age.

To view Finishing on a High, visit: www.finishingonahigh.com/

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