Recently I caught up with a pro golfer, a “blast from the past” who made an undeniable mark on golf lore on the East End. Golfers should remember Corey Pavin, who stole the show at the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock when he hit a four-wood on the 72nd hole from 228 yards away, which landed five feet from the hole. He missed the putt for birdie there but at even par for the championship, Pavin beat Greg Norman by two shots and Tom Lehman by three, to win his first and only major championship.
After Pavin was hitting the four wood, broadcaster Johnny Miller announced, “Watch out for this one. This is the shot of his life.” When the shot settled so close to the hole, Pavin raised his arms in triumph, walked back, gave the four-wood to his caddy and then squatted down to collect himself.
“That was the first time I really showed emotion during the day,” recalls Pavin. “And I know now that I should probably have prayed, ‘Help me make this putt,’ because then, unfortunately, I didn’t make the putt. But I didn’t need it, as it turned out, I still ended up winning by two. But it would’ve been nice to make it because that would’ve really clinched it at that point. But I was just trying to relax, just trying to calm myself down, and because I knew the walk up to the green was going to be pretty emotional, as well.”
Pavin, standing 5’9” tall and weighing approximately 145 pounds, was a welterweight among heavyweights in his prime. “I don’t think I’m a welterweight anymore,” Pavin says with a smile. “I think I’m more of a middleweight. What I like to think is the way I play the game is my way. I’m not trying to emulate anybody. I’m just trying to play within my own ability. I love curving the ball and hitting shots. The creativity of the game is really fun for me. There are only a few people, it seems like, that do that now on the regular tour. But the game evolves, it changes, and I try to evolve and change as much as I can with equipment, and length of the golf courses, things like that. It’s an incredibly wonderful game to play and you get to play with anybody, anytime, and you can be competitive with the handicap system. And I’m just glad I can still be out there and compete with my peers at this point.”
Pavin has been playing on the PGA Tour Champions (over 50 Tour) for 13 years now. I asked Pavin how his game had evolved since the prime of his career when he won 15 PGA Tour titles, competed on three Ryder Cup Teams and rose to number two in the world rankings in June 1996.
“It’s different, but not a lot different,” explains Pavin. “I think my ball flight is a lot higher than it used to be. With these balls that don’t spin as much, you have to launch it higher, so I had to learn how to do that. I certainly hit my driver a lot higher than I used to. I actually hit it further than I ever have, even at whatever age I’m at right now, which is 62, which anybody could look up. I hit it further than I ever have.”
It amazes me that golfers are hitting the ball further and stronger well into their senior years. I asked Pavin why he thought he was getting more distance on the ball at the age of 62?
“Well I think my swing has always been fairly fundamentally sound, even though it looks weird to some people, but I’m certainly stronger than I ever have been. No doubt about that. I think my swing is more efficient than it was my early years on tour. Equipment is a big factor, no doubt about it. But my swing speed’s about the same as it was when I was 25. My club head speed’s the same thing. Having said that, if I’m hitting it further and my club head speed is the same, that means the equipment is better. It’s creating a longer shot. Everybody takes advantage of it and everybody is on the same playing field, and you just go out there and play, and compete as best you can.”
Bernhard Langer, at 64 years of age, is still going strong. He notched his 43rd PGA Tour Champions win earlier in the year at the Chubb Classic and is only two wins away from tying Hale Irwin’s 45-win record on the PGA Tour Champions. In 2017, Langer won seven times on the Champions Tour!
“He doesn’t look like he’s slowing down too much, but it’s amazing to watch him,” says Pavin about Langer. “He’s very meticulous and goes about his business the same way. And he’s got a very solid swing and he’s putting well. He’s making lots of putts and he’s always been a great chipper. He is a solid golfer. He always has been.”
Athletes are much more educated these days about staying in shape, about good nutrition and health. That has to be a big factor as to why golfers are hitting the ball further and better as they age.
“Yes,” agrees Pavin. “I think that’s definitely a big factor. You can go back even into the ’60s when guys were getting older, even the ’80s. When Jack (Nicklaus) won The Masters at 46, everybody was shocked that he could win. Anybody could win at that age. And now it doesn’t seem that old anymore. Phil just won the PGA at 50. So I think you’re seeing the careers lasting a lot longer because of conditioning, because of nutrition. Guys realize that there is a Champions Tour out there to play. So they’re taking care of their bodies a lot better so that when they do turn 50, they can play out on our tour. I think there’s a lot of reasons for it. Mostly, it’s just guys are in better shape, simple as that.”
Ann Liguori is a trailblazer in sports broadcasting. You can hear her “Talking Golf” show on Sundays, 7–8 a.m., on WFAN-NY, her “Sports Innerview” show on Saturdays, 7–8 a.m. on WLIW 88.3 FM, and her weekly podcasts on SI Golf/Morning Read. For more information on Liguori, visit annliguori.com.