NEWPORT BEACH, California — Sixty might be the new 50 on the PGA Tour Champions, but that wonderful reality on the senior circuit thus far in 2019 is still built on the foundation that one cannot wake up feeling like he is 90.
"At our age, you never know what you're going to wake up with," 54-year-old Fox Point native Skip Kendall was telling me Friday at the Hoag Classic.
Back pain. Neck pain. Leg pain. Pain in your ... well y'know, just about anywhere pain can set up shop and make every day a new adventure.
That's what has made the start of the PGA Tour Champions season so remarkable. The average age of the winners of its first four events on the over-50 tour — Tom Lehman, 59; Bernhard Langer, 61; Miguel Angel Jiménez, 55; and Mark O'Meara, 62 — is 59.25, which is more than six years older than the all-time average age of winners (53.02) and well ahead of the single-season record for oldest average age of event winners (54.67 in 2017).
"Langer has blown that out of the water," 2018 American Family Insurance Championship winner Scott McCarron, 53, said of Langer, who has recorded 24 of his 39 PGA Tour Champions victories after turning 55. "You know, I think he's motivated me, for sure, and I think he's motivated a lot of other guys to stay in shape, to practice, to work hard, to eat right, to know that you can have a long career out here.
"When I got out on the Champions Tour, everybody was telling me you've got four or five years to go make your hay. Well, Langer has totally disproven that, and I feel like if I can stay in shape — I hit it pretty long — that I can have a long career out here just like Langer."
The four winners entering this week's Hoag Classic have more than than a physical edge, in the opinion of 52-year-old Madison golfer Jerry Kelly. They have a mental edge, too.
"There are some pretty great old champions out there," Kelly said. "You don't see the grinders winning at 60; you see the champions. They're really good. When they get it going, they know."
They know how to compete. They know how to win.
Lehman, Langer, Jiménez and O'Meara have combined for 61 victories — including 16 senior majors — and 348 top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour Champions. In addition, Langer and Jiménez combined for 63 European Tour victories, Lehman and O'Meara combined for 21 PGA Tour victories and Langer, O'Meara and Lehman have five major championships on the regular tour between them.
"I got to play with Mark on Sunday last week," McCarron said of O'Meara, who shot a final-round 66 and beat McCarron and three other golfers by four shots at the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Arizona. "He played as good as I think I've ever seen him play, and I played with him Saturday when he won the Masters at Augusta. ... I mean, he just played flawless golf. It's just great to see that the golf ball does not know how old you are."
That should be of great comfort to Kelly, who continues to battle through elbow soreness stemming from a knee injury at the end of last season; and Kendall, who has broken 70 just once in 11 tournament rounds this year and admits there are days when he wakes up and feels a lot older than 54.
"All the time," Kendall said, laughing. "There've been a lot of golf balls hit in my lifetime. That's one of the things I tell people; you shoot 65 one day and you wake the next morning and you don't feel the same. ... Trying to equal that out is the key, to where you feel good all the time. It takes work. You can't just go hit golf balls and hit putts on the putting green and play well. You're going to wake up with stuff you've never felt before."