Golf is one of the most popular sports in the US. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2021 over 25 million Americans played at least one round of golf outside on a course. And 10.6 million or 42% of them were over 50 years old. a proportion that has steadily increased over the past five years.
Golf has long been known as a sport of life – a sport you can play into old age – but we wondered how golfers over 50 can not only keep playing, but keep playing well. So we asked some veteran golfers and a sports doctor for their top tips and advice. Here’s what they had to say.
Injuries happen in golf
If your goal is to play golf for the rest of your life, the biggest obstacle you face is an injury. While golf is generally considered a safe sport well suited to all ages, injuries can be fairly common, particularly in those over 50.
“I work with a lot of golfers and that’s the main age group,” Dr. Geoffrey Van Thiel, Sports Physician and Orthopedist at Ortho Illinois in Rockford, Illinois. In people over 50, Van Thiel commonly sees injuries in one of three areas: “The shoulders, usually the rotator cuff; elbow tendinitis or medial epicondylitis; and back pain.”
He attributes these injuries to subtle changes in a golfer’s swing, which often happens as they lose flexibility and core strength with age.
“They’re used to hitting the ball at a certain speed and when they lose that flexibility in their hips or pelvic area, they tend to compensate with their shoulders and elbows, which often causes lower back pain because of that tightness in the Hip loaded,” he told Van Thiel.
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Stay fit for the game
Van Thiel doesn’t just see patients when they’ve injured themselves. He also works with golfers who want to both avoid injury and improve their game. Interestingly, he told us that the same few focuses can do both at the same time.
“I advise my golfers to do three things,” he said. “First of all, core stability needs to be worked on. Men especially don’t tend to focus on the core. They focus too much on what I call the “beach muscles” rather than their functional stabilizers.”
Next, he advises his patients to work on the flexibility of the hamstrings, shoulders, and pelvic or hip area. “Yoga is perfect for this,” he added, “but men don’t do a lot of yoga.”
Finally, Van Thiel recommends regular strength training for the shoulders and elbows, but emphasizes that “the muscles in golf are small, high-endurance muscles,” so he suggests using lighter weights for higher reps.
“Go away from the idea of weights and move more towards the idea of bands, similar to rehab exercises for a rotator cuff injury,” he said.
A key exercise he recommends is lifting a band forward, to the sides, and at every angle in between, first with a thumb-down grip, then parallel to the floor, and finally up to the ceiling.
“Do this every day for a total of five minutes per shoulder, in sets for as long as you can tolerate, with 15 seconds rest in between,” Van Thiel said.
The golfers we surveyed all managed to avoid the types of injuries described by the doctor, and they had some other tips on how to keep playing well.
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Become a student of the game
Victor Ohno, 57, of Minneapolis, has played golf since college but started taking his game more seriously about 10 years ago.
“I’ve never taken classes or worked with a coach, but I watch a lot of videos and try to study other people’s swings and listen to what they recommend,” Ohno said. He also captures video of his own swing and analyzes it alongside footage of great golfers to see where he could improve.
“I don’t drink on the course either,” he said. “I really want to try to improve every time I go out. For most people it’s a social thing and you go out with your friends and have a drink. I’ll wait until then.”
Gladys “Corky” Nienaber, a 76-year-old retired high school teacher who splits her time between Lake Havasu, Arizona, and Carefree Country Club in Big Lake, Minnesota, says her game is a lot better now than when she was started playing golf at the age of 54.
“It was a nightmare back then!” she giggled. “I almost quit after 15 years but then I started to improve and now I’m about the same if not better.”
Nienaber also learned by watching better golfers play, but really attributes her improvement to learning to relax. “At first I was intimidated and tried way too hard,” she recalls. “But then I started dating women and people who weren’t that serious, and then I started loving it.”
Put passion into action
The love of the game has pushed Nienaber to play more and all that practice has paid off. She currently plays golf two to three times a week and her husband Ron Nienaber, 78, says he plays the links almost every day.
“Sometimes I go out twice a day,” he said. And all the play has paid off. “Last year, after 50 years of golf, I got my first hole-in-one. Then, three weeks later, I had my second!”
Ohno only plays outdoor golf about every two weeks during Minnesota’s notoriously short summer season. “But I live in a condo with a golf simulator, so I play golf all the time,” he said.
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We asked him how that compares to outdoor golf. “Actually, it’s very realistic! The only thing that isn’t is [that] They have a perfect lie every time and there’s no wind,” Ohno explained.
All three of our golfers said their game improved significantly once they got more play. “I might not be able to hit the ball that far now, but my technique is so much better,” Corky said.
love of the game
The Nienabers recently joined a league with around 70 members in Arizona, which not only helps them play well but is also more fun.
“It’s a scramble, so you’re always changing who you’re golfing with,” Corky said. “It’s just so much fun.”
It’s clear that for Corky, the love of the game is about connecting with others. “The nice thing about our family is that we all love to play golf. We have a lot of families – on both sides – get together and play golf.”
Whatever your reasons for loving the sport, with a smart training program, a focus on good technique and consistent play, you can not only continue to golf, but golf well for many years to come.
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Rashelle Brown is a veteran fitness professional and freelance writer with hundreds of copywrites in print and online. She is a regular contributor to NextAvenue and the Active Network, and is the author of Reboot Your Body: Unlocking the Genetic Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss (Turner Publishing). Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @RashelleBrownMN.
This article is reprinted with permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.
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