Experience in majors is overrated. Or is it?
With so many majors being won by first-timers in recent years, experience seems overrated. Or is it? Brian Wacker surveys a series of major winners to get their take.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
There’s a saying in golf about how the ball doesn’t know how old you are. Judging by the list of recent major champions, it apparently doesn’t care much about experience, either.
Nine of the last 10 major winners, including each of the last six, had never hoisted such hefty hardware.
That begs the question, does experience matter?
“I think experience in major championships is overrated,” Phil Mickelson said.
It sure seems that way lately. The average age of the last nine major winners is 28.77. Take Darren Clarke, who won last year’s Open Championship, out of the mix and that number drops to 27.
Of course you can’t just disregard Clarke and his 43 years of age, even if he had never won a major championship. Or Mickelson, who didn’t win his first major championship until age 33 at the 2004 Masters and whose most recent came six years later at age 40 at Augusta National.
Or can you?
“Augusta is probably the place where experience matters the most,” Stephen Ames said.
“I think the [British] Open boils down to luck more than anything else,” Ames continued. “Without a doubt, it’s the most unpredictable.”
That it may be -- raise your hand if you had Clarke, or Louis Oosthuizen, or Stewart Cink winning each of the last three years.
But experience also goes a long way in the Open.
How else do you explain 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly becoming golf’s oldest major champion at golf’s oldest major championship? Five times Watson has hoisted the Claret Jug, and he almost made it a sixth before falling to Cink in a playoff.
Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington won the Open the four years prior to that and at last check both have healthy resumes when it comes to the experience department.
Todd Hamilton and Ben Curtis didn't, of course. They won the Open in 2004 and 2003, respectively.
“There are so many other factors [than experience],” Curtis said.
He should know because he had literally none, at least at the major championship level, when he won sitting in the clubhouse at Royal St. George’s.
“It’s hard to predict winners [in the Open] more than any other event,” Curtis said. “One, you’re not going to the same course year after year, and two the conditions dictate how things play out. It could be perfect for four days and 20 under will win, or it can be really windy and even par will win.”
In terms of experience, Curtis added, “Any one of us can win. Keep it out of the bunkers, keep it out of the hay, get your putter going and some good things can happen.”
They certainly did for Curtis, who won by one over the more experienced Vijay Singh and Thomas Bjorn and by two over Davis Love III and Woods.
“Everything finally clicked that week,” Curtis remembered. “I was hitting it well leading up to it, but my putting was getting better and better each week. I putted so well from 15 feet and in that week. That was the difference.”
Which goes back to Mickelson’s earlier point.
“It's not anywhere near as important as playing golf at a high level, no matter what your age or experience level,” he said. “Whoever is playing the best golf is typically going to compete and win the majors, regardless of experience.”
But not always regardless of venue -- especially when it comes to the invariably fickle Open Championship.
“Oftentimes it will require the ball to be played along the ground a lot more than through the air and that can take some getting used to,” Mickelson said.
Maybe experience isn’t so overrated after all.