Don’t Forget to Lower the Bar
WHY IT’S OK FOR AGING ATHLETES TO ADJUST
THEIR ATTITUDE BY BILL MCCOLLOM
It wasn’t the first time I’d quit golf this past summer, nor was it
the last. After bumbling around 16 holes, dribbling the ball off the
tee, and scattering shots left, right and down Route 106 to Wood-
stock, I resolved that enough was enough. If golf had become
just another self-inflicted “enhanced interrogation device,” I didn’t
Steam was coming out my ears and I was sorely tempted to fling
my clubs into the nearest pond. But I decided to play out the last
two holes in deference to my partner and so I didn’t look like a
sore loser, which I most assuredly was. But once the decision was
made to forever stop torturing myself, a calm came over me for
those final two holes. Miracle of miracles, I chipped in for a birdie
on 17, and then after three perfect shots, rolled in a short putt for
par on the final hole. I couldn’t wait to get back on the course and
shoot what I was sure was going to be my best round of the sea-
son. Ah yes, hope springs eternal.
Thankfully, my other interests — ski racing, tennis, and riding
bikes — are not as fickle endeavors as golf, but when competitive
results do not meet our expectations, the end result is the same:
time is enough to keep me in the hunt.
Maintaining a positive perspective only becomes more difficult as
our physical capabilities gradually erode with age. This is espe-
cially true in golf where handicaps, scores, and yardage markers
all scream the cruel truth about the state of our game (and age).
And for those of us who have been racing masters for more than
a few years, we can well remember when we used to finish ahead
of most of the women. And now? We have to wonder if the women
in the over- 60 categories are getting that much faster. Or we’re
going that much slower. This could be depressing, if not for a few
well-worn anti-aging coping strategies.
I’ve sometimes been labeled a “deluded optimist,” and I’d have
to confess that it’s true and I’m proud of it. Attitude is probably the
best antidote to dealing with encroaching gray hair and receding
gum lines, and “denial” can be the most effective club in the bag.
Simply pretend that only the “unfortunate others” are afflicted with
the aging process while you’re immune. Keep the goals high, the
energy levels ramped up, maintain good health as best you can,
and instantly you’ll look like that 80-year-old doctor with the phy-
head! Make some adjustments.
Add a stroke or two to your “acceptable” golf score. Don’t heave
your racquet into the net if you can no longer streak across the
tennis court to retrieve a drop shot. (Also remember, you’ll have
to bend over to pick it up.) And hey, it’s all right to be four seconds
behind the winning ski racer, if three seconds was a realistic goal
10 years ago. Compromise is a dirty word, but use your peers for
your performance markers, rather than the entire field.
Take advantage of your strengths. You may not be as sprightly as
you used to be, but hopefully you’re a great deal wiser. “Manage”
the golf course instead of trying to overpower it (now that’s a con-
cept that I really should try). Adjust your line on the racecourse.
“Late and straight” was fun in the old days but will only induce
a sports hernia and/or heart failure after a certain age. Employ
strategy, play the percentages; do all those things that you wished
you’d done when you were young enough to actually do them.
Lastly, never lose sight of the big picture, and keep your involve-
ment in perspective. It’s not the Olympics — right? It’s all for fun.
If you find yourself grumbling at the scoreboard for hours on end
frustration. So what is it that keeps us staggering back to the competitive arena? For me it’s the memory of hitting a whistling backhand down the line in tennis (a shot I really don’t know how to hit,
but I saw it executed on TV); or easily clearing the crest of a hill on
my bike that usually leaves me gasping like a guppy out of water;
or arcing a perfect GS turn, one that would make Ted Ligety green
with envy. Even if that brush with perfection only happens once a
season, the hope that I might be able to replicate it just one more
ILLUSTRATION BY RAND PAUL
sique of a college weightlifter, the one who’s featured in airplane
magazines. But then again there is reality, which often trumps de-
If your athletic goals are still locked in at where they were 10 or
20 years ago, and at the same time, you’re so stiff in the morning
that you can’t get your socks on, chances are you’re headed for
an emotional train wreck. All the hope in the world can’t overcome
an endless succession of disappointments. So don’t be a block-
after the race, forgetting that it’s a beautiful day and your friends
are out freeskiing, well then, your priorities are askew. Whatever
your favorite sport is, be thankful that you have the talent, gump-
tion, and good health to participate.
Who knows, in your next outing you just might enter “the zone”
and enjoy the run, round or ride of your life (or maybe not). But
that one moment of perfection is a powerful narcotic, and hope