The fairytale ending for the 2008 Open championship didn’t happen. Greg Norman, with an opportunity to be the oldest major winner in history at the age of 53 was unable to rise to the occasion. Norman ended in a tie for 3rd place which, all things considered, was remarkable, but in the end there were too many errant drives and some putts that looked as though they were going to find the bottom of the cup but found a way to stay out.
Regardless, I was surprised that a number of commentators picked Norman to win the Open even though he had the 54 hole lead going into Sunday’s final round.
Not that Norman isn’t incredibly fit and obviously still has the skills and the talent to post good scores. It’s just that there are reasons why there aren’t 50 year-olds dominating at the majors – or any other PGA tournament for that matter.
I personally think that the reason a player’s game slips as he gets older is not so much due to the loss of physical skills, but comes down to the wear and tear on the mental skills. It just gets more and more difficult for a golfer to maintain the level of concentration required to win over the four days of competition.
It would be tough enough under ideal conditions, but at Royal Birkdale they had just completed three days of play battling gale force winds, which is akin trying to compete at the highest level while trying to ignore some ignorant clod intent on trying to shove you off the course. That’s difficult enough for a 20 year old to contend with over four days and a decided disadvantage for a 50 year old. It boils down to the fact that as you get mentally tired you start to make unforced errors.
But in the end, Norman didn’t lose the Open. Padraig Harrington won the tournament coming on strong on the back nine and making a marvelous eagle on the 17th to put a cap on it.
One thing that Norman can take solace in is that only 6 golfers shot under par on Sunday, with Harrington posting a 69. The only other sub-par round in the top 10 was Ian Poulter who placed second. For the other 4 it was too little too late.
In the end, Norman would have needed to shoot a par 70 on Sunday to win and only 2 golfers were able to post that score. Which means that with 83 golfers competing on Sunday only 8 were able to shoot par or better.
Putting it all into perspective Greg Norman had one hell of an Open regardless of his age.