HSBC Women’s Champions 2017

Young guns versus old hands: Oldies stay the course, contesting each title by drawing on experience

An exciting crop of youngsters is starting to dominate the women’s golf scene, but the veterans are hardly letting them have it easy

Mozart, that sublime show-off, was composing music at five and Yo-Yo Ma the cellist was performing in public at the same age. By those standards Michelangelo, who finished David in his late 20s, was a late bloomer. Prodigies are gifted at making us feel ancient, even in golf where kids seem to leap out of prams and into the winners' circle. Lydia Ko, for God's sake, was No. 1 at 17, which meant that even splashing her with victory champagne seemed unlawful.

But in our continuing romance with youth in every field, let's not start writing epitaphs on every talent with a wrinkle. Viola Davis won her first Oscar nomination at 43 and last week her first Oscar at 51 for Fences, so there's always hope for the greying among us. Of course, in golf it might be said that no woman over 30 won a title on the LPGA Tour in 2016, but since when did statistics know anything about heart?

And so don't even try telling Angela Stanford (39 years old), Cristie Kerr (39), Karrie Webb (42) and Catriona Matthew (47), all here in Singapore, that they'll never win again, because they're not done with their dreams. "I have lots of goals," says Kerr and then tells you with all the finality of a Clint Eastwood one-liner: "The golf ball doesn't know age."

Nor, evidently, does the tennis ball or the football. Not if you hit it like Roger Federer (35) and Serena Williams (35) or throw it like Tom Brady (39), whose enthusiasm offers them vitality and whose persistence ignites their ambition.

What Brady and this winning grizzled gang offer their age group is the gift of relevance and the truth of last chances. "I love to watch people push the limit of age in sport," smiles Stanford. "You're always told you have a shelf life and so to watch people succeed at a high level is encouraging."

Sure, their bodies might ache more but Kerr's got her first trainer in five years and Matthew says they're looking after their bodies better and Stanford now wears compression socks and simply won't take red-eye flights.



It's really cool to see a bunch of girls out there around my age. We all get along really well but we also push one another to play better.

LEXI THOMPSON, American golfer, who was a teenage major winner.


You're always told you have a shelf life and so to watch people succeed at a high level is encouraging.

ANGELA STANFORD, American golfer, who has never won a major.

In short, they're adapting and they're compensating. They may be losing elasticity - Kerr at 45th was the longest hitter among them last year - but they're creased with experience and well informed about courses, winds, greens and when not to panic. "You know where the pins will be," says Stanford, "you know you will have opportunities, if not today, then tomorrow. And on a bad day you can hold it together."

And one more thing: After 16 years of travelling, she can pack "with a blindfold on".

If kids lack fear because they haven't yet understood consequence, then older athletes learn "patience", says Matthew. She has two kids and golf isn't the "centre of everything" any more and such balance brings perspective.

The young are building CVs, but these women own bodies of work. Those aren't lines on their faces but markers of accomplishment. Kerr has a family, she's won 18 times including two Majors, and so she'll tell you that she has "nothing to prove to anyone". Except, she clarifies, to herself.

So on they go, a minority tribe of seniors, who face longer courses and miss their kids and collect injuries and have enough air miles to go to Venus, but who have a profound affection for their craft. They probably love golf more because they have less golf left. "I don't know how much longer I have," said Stanford, "and I am starting to appreciate it more." When you're 19, you can't see endings, but they can.

Last year none of Webb, Stanford, Matthew or Kerr won on the LPGA Tour but between them they had 13 Top 10s. Consistency has leaked away but as Matthew says, "If I can play my best golf, I can compete". So can they all. They might not do it every week, but they'll try and sleep well and rehydrate and train smartly and wait for their week.

Resolve is their armour and if they need inspiration they can flick through the past. Since 1997, Betsy King, 41, Julie Inkster, 42, and Sherri Steinhauer, 43, have all won Majors. Not prodigies, simply prodigious. And what they tell us is precisely what Yuichiro Miura did by climbing Everest at 80: Reaching summits is a matter of appetite, not age.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Young guns versus old hands: Oldies stay the course, contesting each title by drawing on experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe