At what age do golfers reach their peak?
by Chris Mills
The playing career of a competitive sportsman is a limited thing. Sportsmen are usually only competitive when they are physically fit and by the time middle age has set in its likely that fitness has become a problem. The longer a sportsman can prolong their physical well-being, the more opportunity they have to utilise the experience and tactical awareness built up over a long career.
Its an interesting conundrum to consider at what point the combination of experience and physical well-being are maximised to produce sportsmen at the top of their game.
Golf is not unlike other sports in this respect. Although golf is not physically demanding, it nonetheless requires a degree of athleticism. The game can be played quite readily by enthusiasts who are well into their sixties and seventies, but they cannot be physically sharp at this age. On the other hand, golf is undoubtedly a game in which you never stop learning and experience is a hugely valuable asset. The maturity that comes with advancing age is also of considerable benefit in golf. Patience and composure are important factors in playing good golf and these qualities tend to be associated with greater maturity.
So at what age are golfers likely to reach their peak? To come up with some sort of answer, Pro Golf Form performed an analysis of some of the worlds best golfers. The sample comprised the top 100 players on the US PGA money list and top 100 players on the European Tour order of merit in 2005. The 200 golfers were then sorted into various age categories and average Pro Golf Form performance ratings were calculated for each group.
Pro Golf Form ratings are calculated for each golfer in every US PGA and European Tour tournament. The ratings are calculated by taking the players mean stroke average for a tournament and then adjusting the score for the difficulty of the course and the strength of the field. As the ratings are under-pinned by stroke averages, they can be used to compare performances on the basis of shots per round. Each full point is worth one shot per 18 holes. A quarter point is effectively worth one shot per 72 holes of golf. For example, a player with a rating of 69.00 should, on average, perform one shot better over 18 holes than a player rated 70.00.
The results were as follows:
Aged under 25 – 18 players – Average rating 71.43
Aged 25 to 30 – 43 players – Average rating 71.28
Aged 30 to 35 – 60 players – Average rating 71.25
Aged 35 to 40 – 42 players – Average rating 70.92
Aged 40 to 45 – 25 players – Average rating 70.94
Aged over 45 – 12 players – Average rating 71.08
The first thing to note is that the largest number of qualifying players on the US PGA and European Tours fall into the 30 to 35 years of age category. This would seem to indicate, through sheer weight of numbers, that most golfers reach their peak in their early thirties. By virtue of their position at the head of the US PGA and European Tour money lists, these players are the best in the world. So the fact that almost a third of them are aged between 30 and 35 year of age is significant.
The ratings analysis also confirms the theory that players improve with age. The average rating for a player in his early 20s is 71.43, whereas players in their early thirties have an average rating of 71.25. This equates to players in their early thirties being, on average, one shot better per 72 holes of golf.
The ratings also show an interesting pattern for players moving into middle age. Golfers that are still playing on Tour in their late thirties and forties appear to out-perform their more youthful rivals. The best group average rating is recorded by the players aged 35 to 40. There may be fewer of them among the worlds best, but those that remain seem to outperform their younger rivals.
So what can we conclude from this data? Well, it seems to point to the fact that golfers reach their best somewhere in their thirties. There is then plenty of room for argument as to whether golfers are at their best in their early or late thirties. Perhaps a reasonable conclusion would be that most players tend to reach their peak in their early thirties, although for those golfers that look after themselves physically, their best golf is produced in their late thirties.
Chris Mills works for Pro Golf Form and is an expert analyst of the US PGA and European golf tours.