With two holes to go during Sunday's final round of the Honda Classic, 56-year-old Vijay Singh still had a chance. As it turns out, he would have needed a minimum birdie-birdie finish. Instead, after an unfortunate missed tee shot on the 17th, he wound up sixth at 6-under-par, three shots behind first-time PGA Tour winner Keith Mitchell.
But just the fact that Singh was playing in the final group on Sunday on one of the tour's toughest golf courses -- the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa in Florida -- with someone 31 years younger than him (Singh shot a final round 70, while 25-year-old Wyndham Clark ended up with a 2-over-par 72), is both remarkable and inspiring.
This is kinda amazing: 56-year-old Vijay Singh ranked 4th in strokes gained: tee to green at one of the toughest non-majors of the year.— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) March 3, 2019
And for those of us still playing or wanting to play golf into our 50s and well beyond, it should give us hope. Hope that our games don't have to naturally deteriorate as we get older (or at least not at a rapid rate). Hope that we can enjoy golf in our advancing years, probably more than any other recreational sport. Hope that our quality of life can remain high well into our AARP years. Hope that if we just do some work on our bodies it will pay dividends.
Singh is certainly a great example of that. As most know, few golfers have ever worked as hard or harder than Vijay Singh. Back when I covered a few PGA Tour events and especially majors, I can still vividly recall Singh -- after a round, good or bad – was usually the last guy to leave the range.
Singh raised a few eyebrows earlier this year when videos of his insane workouts hit social media. In it, he can be seen throwing a huge truck tire as far as most 50-plus year-olds can throw a football. It's no wonder that he can get it out there off the tee with most of the PGA Tour regulars (Singh averaged 305.5 yards off the tee on Sunday).
And there are plenty of other examples of great players whose fitness regimes have been major factors in their careers. Tiger Woods, of course, is the example most modern tour players point to, but Bernhard Langer has torn it up on the PGA Tour Champions in large part, no doubt, because he takes care of his body. And the godfather of golf fitness, of course, Gary Player, has been preaching this stuff for decades.
The good news is that recreational golfers don't have to do anything crazy like Singh to get more more from their golf games. What we do need to do is take care of ourselves. It's never too early and almost never too late.
I'm not knocking the occasional beer on the course or even a cigar (see the 55-year-old, super-flexible Miguel Angel Jimenez), but playing golf using a cart isn't enough exercise to stay fit if that's the bulk of your activity. You have to do more.
Of course if you're in your 20s or 30s, you might think otherwise. When I was in my 30s, I was still bombing my tee shots with little regard to a workout routine or even more importantly, my diet (more on that later). I did practice and hit balls, which certainly helped my golf game, but did little for my overall fitness and health.
When I turned 50 everything changed. I started losing distance off the tee in each subsequent year, significant distance. Everything hurt more after rounds. Golf definitely wasn't as much fun.
But in the last few years I've found myself playing with an older group of golfers during my rounds at home, and they've inspired me. I'm the youngster in the group and it's all I can do to not get fleeced by these guys. One of our regulars is 87-year-old Carl Ahrens, who still shoots better than his age every time he plays (it's not even close). In fact, Ahrens, who was once a major league baseball prospect, has recorded rounds in the 60s in the last 10 years.
Ahrens still exercises regularly, swings a heavy club to maintain clubhead speed and most importantly, eats right. Part of that is he never overeats. As Thomas Jefferson said in his Canons of Conduct, "We never repent of having eaten too little."
Good nutrition is probably more important than exercise and honestly, easier to control. And I have no doubt that Singh supplements his workouts with proper nutrition.
A friend and one of the best personal trainers and nutrition coaches I know, Pam Owens (who works with tour players among other professional clients) years ago said something that is finally hitting home: "You can always out-eat your workout."
That means even people who run five miles a day can gain weight. The average person probably only burns 600 calories in a five-mile run (less if walked). A fast food meal or pasta-filled dish with garlic bread can wipe that out in minutes (both can easily account for 1,500 or more calories). Mindless snacking on chips, candies or cookies will also nullify workouts.
Yes, there are all kinds of diets out there, and I wouldn't begin to debate them, whether it's Keto or Paleo or intermittent fasting. I believe they all work if you follow them. It's just that following them for life isn't easy for most of us. So recently I tried a different approach:
Treat food as fuel, not entertainment
A little over two months ago, I decided to look at food differently. I've read lots of books on nutrition, talked to many experts on the subject as part of my job, and came to this conclusion: If you avoid processed foods – especially sugar – your body will thank you.
So I started loading up on the stuff in the perimeters of the grocery stores – peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, bananas, berries, avocados, salmon, chicken, beef, some dairy, eggs, pistachios. etc. What I don't eat anymore are chips, cookies, crackers, cereal, any sort of candy or pastry and nutrition bars (most of them have just as many calories as candy bars). And I've never been a big drinker, though I do enjoy an occasional craft beer or Manhattan.
The weight came off (from 179 pounds to 163 pounds), but more importantly, I feel better. The inflammation that was causing joint pain has eased, I'm more flexible and my endurance seems unlimited.
My exercise these days is tennis three or four or times a week (singles and doubles), plus I'm starting to lift weights. I've also been doing a five-minute overspeed golf routine four or five times a week with SuperSpeed Golf for the past three months. My swing speed with a driver, which was as low as 95 mph back in December, is back up to 104 mph, which is the difference between hitting the ball 240 yards off the tee to 270 yards.
A few days ago, I went in for my annual physical, and I just got my lab results back: Among my numbers were a total cholesterol score of 112, LDL of 52 and triglycerides of 75. I was astounded. A year ago, those numbers were almost double what they are now.
My point is that I didn’t do anything extreme. We all basically know what's good for us and what isn't. My approach was simply logical: Eat the good stuff, not the bad. Now I eat when I'm hungry, not because it's there or I'm bored.
You might be wondering why it took me this long to come to this epiphany. Simply put, I was finally truly ready, despite half-hearted attempts in the past. The pain of my bad choices was outweighing any pleasure I was getting from food, and I'm starting to see my own mortality more and more with each day.
I'm a year older than Vijay and 30 years younger than my friend Carl, who told me he still plans to be on the course when he hits 100. I'll be 70 when that happens, and I have little doubt we'll still be enjoying our rounds together.