One of the most common issues golfers face as they age (especially over age 50) is the loss of speed and distance. Many times they concede that it is just part of aging and it's just something they have to accept. I see many of these same golfers try to make up for this loss of speed and distance with a new driver. While club fitting is extremely valuable and can absolutely help gain distance there are limits to how much you can gain from it. You can only get so much distance out a club at a certain club head speed. At some point to achieve your desired distance you need to move the club faster.
These same golfers also commonly complain of aches and pains with golf and many times blame it on old age as well and rely on taking anti inflammatory before and/or after the round.
However, this doesn't have to be the case. In my opinion there is a common denominator to both of these issues and it is something that many of them neglect: their body.
What if I told you that you can gain speed and distance as you age or at a minimum prevent further decline? It might sound like a gimmick, but it's true. It's never too late to start on work on improving your body and reaping the benefits of this to your health and golf game. I have several examples of senior golfers who decided to commit to improving their body and are experiencing the benefits of more distance, better golf, less pain and more energy. In some cases I've seen gains up to 15 mph of club head speed and distance gains of 30+ yards. Even in golfers in their eighties. Keep reading to see how it is possible to get better with age and slow down father time.
The effects of aging on normal amateur golfer VS elite athletes
If you watch sports you likely have noticed that at some point athletes decline and can no longer run as fast, jump as high, throw as fast or swing as fast as they once did. Great athletes such as Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Brady all have eventually fallen victim to father time and have to retire. Observing this it can be easy to be assume that if this is happening to the world's best athletes who have access to the best training and recovery methods that there is nothing that can be done to prevent the effects of aging. This is true that there will be natural changes with aging that will effect everyone especially from age 40 and up. However, there are a couple of key differences between elite athletes and the average club golfer that can explain how its possible to improve with age.
Have you maximized your genetic potential? All of the athletes I mentioned above have trained to reach their genetic ceiling and get every ounce of performance out of their body. Usain Bolt set the world record in the 100m dash at 9.58 seconds at age 24. Michael Phelps was breaking records at a similar age. Tiger Woods experienced similar dominance in golf in his 20's and 30's. These athletes were all performing at or near their maximum genetic potential. When you have reached your peak physical capabilities like this there is going to be an eventual decline with age. Eventually there are changes in the number and size of our fast twitch muscle fibers which largely is responsible for this decline.
However, no club golfer that I have met has come close to reaching their physical genetic potential. Amateur golfers are not professional athletes and they have jobs, families and other responsibilities that take up a significant chunk of time. In many cases there physical activity is minimal and has been that way for years. In these cases there is a big gap between their current physical level and their peak genetic capabilities. This gap helps explain the area of improvement you can make even with age and why sometimes I see people reach their fastest speeds ever later in life.
The visuals below helps to explain this phenomenon (Credit to Dr. Sasho Mackenzie for these visuals). The first picture is of a golfer at age 30. The red line indicates optimal training for peak speed starting at age 20. As you can see peak speed levels are reached in the mid to late 20's but maintained pretty well until age 40 with an eventual decline even with optimal training. The blue line indicates no training. As you can see there is a significant gap in the two levels for this individual. This gap indicates the situation the majority of club golfers are in and the room for improvement they have. The yellow line indicates the initiation of training at age 30. In this case they are actually able to be faster in their 30's than their 20's. They never quite reach their ceiling they would have had they begun training earlier in life, however it's not drastic and they drop off is much less. The second picture below of the 50 year old golfer demonstrates the same. In this case the golfer who starts training at 50 is able to reach peak speeds similar to age 30, before a decline at age 60. However, there is also much less of a drop off as age compared to no training.
It's never too late to start
Hopefully the visuals above are encouraging in the potential benefits and gains you can make at any point in life. Obviously the earlier you can start taking these steps the better, however it is never too late to start this journey and experience the benefits. Besides the potential gains in speed, training is also going to help improve your longevity on the course and in life with daily activities. While gains are great, I also think there is value in maintenance and reducing the percentage of decline as you age as well. From each of these charts you can see that everyone will eventually experience a physical drop off of with age. However, you can limit how much of a drop off that is. As a nice piece of inspiration of what the body is capable of take a look in the video on the right of Fast Eddie Fernandes. Eddie is capable of club head speeds over 150 mph at age 51! While very few will be capable of this, don't underestimate what you may be capable of.
Another potential area for improvement: Swing Technique
While this article primarily dealt with the body, I also wanted to acknowledge that swing technique is another area that can be optimized for speed gains. Pro golfers typically have very efficient swings that are producing maximum speeds. Many amateurs however have technical issues in the swing that might be limiting speed. This is something that can be addressed at any age.