Tom Watson Didn’t Win the British Open. But He Did Teach the Rest of Us a Valuable Lesson.

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This weekend Tom Watson just about won the British Open. At the age of 107.

He almost accomplished (did accomplish) what no other golfer has ever done. Win a major championship after the age of 46 (or in his case… finish 2nd …no other golfer has done that at his age either).

Actually he is 59, but he could be much older and it wouldn’t have made a difference.Tom Watson on Thursday at Turnberry in the British Open.

For years, golf analysts (those geniuses who whisper when someone is hitting… and they are in an enclosed tower 20 feet in the air… and the golfer is 300 yards away from them…) have said golfers can’t compete with younger players after their 45th birthday.


I’m almost positive that the ball, the clubs, and the course have no idea the age of each golfer.

And if they did, age has almost nothing to do with playing well.

Now you can certainly make the argument that as you get older your strength decreases, you tire more easily, and your desire wanes.

But that has nothing to do with being able to play good golf. It has everything to do with the amount of effort a person puts into it.

When you don’t work hard at something you aren’t going to be as competitive as you were 20 years ago.

Older golfers simply don’t practice as much as younger golfers.

They don’t have to.

They already own a big house, several cars, a vacation home(s), have saved for retirement, and are at the age where they don’t want to travel as much.

I will admit that practice won’t completely close the gap between a 25 year old golfer and a 59 year one.

But it will lessen the distance.

Tom Watson didn’t win a major, but he did open the door.

He has shown others the way (along with Greg Norman last year) that it is possible to win in your 50’s if you prepare for it.

A golfer older than 50 will win one of golf’s 4 majors. And soon.

Age has little to do with being good. Desire has everything to do with it.

The same holds true in any profession.

I hear the age excuse all the time from people who work in education (K-12 and college).

They are too old to learn a new skill, or teach new material, or change grade levels, or take a new job, or even go back to college to get their Master’s Degree.

It’s simply not true.

They aren’t too old.

Just like they aren’t too old to exercise more, or run a 5k, or climb a mountain.

Age has nothing to do with it.

Now they may lack the desire or the interest.

But they shouldn’t blame age.

It’s just a number.

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6 Responses to “Tom Watson Didn’t Win the British Open. But He Did Teach the Rest of Us a Valuable Lesson.”

  1. Deven Black
    on Jul 19th, 2009
    @ 8:11 pm

    I don’t see a lot of teachers with big homes, fancy cars, plush vacation destinations and huge savings, so I think your analogy needs some work. Complacency caused by prior achievement and the ability to rest on one’s laurels is not the problem in the classroom.

    There are often incentives for teachers to continue teaching the same way, for doing what worked at some time in the past and may work again. Teachers have no incentive for taking risks involved in changing grade levels or jobs, changing methodologies or teaching new materia because what is going to happen is that they’re going to get blamed if something goes wrong and not get rewarded or even credited when things go well. When the situation is that lopsided, would you take risks?

  2. Warren Purdy
    on Jul 19th, 2009
    @ 8:13 pm

    Golf eh? A good walk ruined. I didn’t have you down as a golfer, Michael. Or did the evil mother-in-law ghost write this POST? By the way, I have THREE mothers-in-law (yes she who must be obeyed’s father made the same mistake three times). Please have pity on me.

  3. timgee3
    on Jul 20th, 2009
    @ 6:02 pm

    I have to agree with you PP, age has nothing to do with the level at which one performs. I have met first year teachers who rock the classroom, and 35 year vets who are just 35 years better than they were when they began rocking the classroom.

    I think the analogy of golf does work, but it’s not about the money and cars so much as it is about job performance. I’m not a huge “golf” fan, but I do like certain golfers. What I have often noticed is that golfers will go through slumps at times and it usually comes right after they make a change to their game that, to the untrained eye (mine), makes no apparent difference to the players game. (angle of attack on the ball, hip movement, head position, grip structure, whatever…) anyhow, they take small risks that they know will payoff in the future.

    The same is, or at least should be the same, in the classroom or school building. Teachers don’t have to make remarkable changes to improve practice. They have to take calculated risks (try something new and proven) to achieve a better end product. And the age thing can not be an excuse. The best veteran teachers are not doing things they way they did five years ago. The most effective principals are stretching themselves each year. Heck, for one district administrator I know, a stretch that seems to be paying off now is simply reading some quality blogs and sharing in a PLN.

    Point is, for some practitioners, there is no incentive to improve. Too bad, those poor souls tend to miss out on some really great opportunities for improvement. I was coaching a 15 year veteran teacher at his invitation about 5 months ago. After reflection on observations and forming an action plan, he developed a routine for getting 7th graders engaged as soon as class began, and within two weeks he was a happier individual and seeing his students be more productive in class. The incentive to improve, for him, was a nagging feeling that he could be better than he was. The payoff, albeit not a vacation home or a mercedes, was an increased sense of productivity and success in his own classroom.

    So no matter whether it’s golf, or teaching, incentive exists, you just have to want it.

  4. Mr. McNamar
    on Jul 21st, 2009
    @ 5:17 pm

    Excellent analogy. And golf works better than any other sport–mostly because of PED’s; imagine teachers on teaching steroids!
    Like any non-athletic profession, age has no meaning. I taught with a man who could teach me in circles even at the age of 65. I also have a colleague now who is barely out of college and I would consider her my true peer.

  5. Sean Nash
    on Jul 24th, 2009
    @ 4:07 pm

    …and you know, that guy was the best bad weather player that I remember. It just seems to make sense that he has the fire in him to step up when the situation seems more difficult than normal. This guy has character traits that we all want to have in the people around us- no matter what line of work we do. Never flashy always passionate.

  6. Cracker
    on Jul 29th, 2009
    @ 4:47 pm

    Sometimes life gets simplier as you get older.

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