Oh, youth of America, take these things as warnings: On Monday, Hale Irwin, at 45, won the U.S. Open. On Saturday, George Foreman, at 41, took only two rounds to prove that he is a real contender for the heavyweight championship. And last week, Nolan Ryan, at 43, threw a no-hitter against the World Series champion Oakland Athletics.

News like this arouses a sly delight in those of us who have attained the age when our alumni bulletins tell us of the grandchildren and early retirements of our classmates; when our children see us trimming the hair out of our ears and say, "Oooh, gross"; when we're the same age as the rest of the audience at the Kennedy Center; when we're afraid to use any slang at all -- "Mom, nobody 'digs' things anymore."

Yes, we grow old, we grow old.

Or wait a second. What are we talking about here? We are talking as if Irwin, Foreman and Ryan are freaks, fugitives from the law of averages. But it happens all the time now. Think of the Rolling Stones filling stadiums with screams on their last tour. Could Mick Jagger have imagined, when he was 19, that kids would someday wave and scream at a band the age of the average American prune buyer? Why do crowds turn out to watch the seniors golf tour? Why do more and more of our "younger writers" seem to be in their thirties and forties? (You can be part of the "Yale Series of Younger Poets" at 39.)

Tired as we all may be of the '60s and its spawn, the sad truth is that it's precisely that generation out there throwing no-hitters and making great music. How can this be? These people should be sitting home ordering things from catalogues. They should be becoming little old ladies in tennis shoes (remember those stalwarts of the Goldwater campaign in 1964?). They should be snarling at children in restaurants.

Little did they imagine that they would be not only part of the most famous youth generation in American history, but also America's youth for their entire lives.

Nowadays the people ordering things from catalogues are 28-year-old lawyers. The little old ladies in tennis shoes are 26-year-old Harvard MBAs on their way to work. The people snarling at children in restaurants are -- especially, andmaybe even largely, in Washington -- the hysterical self-sterilized thin-lipped career-grubbers spending their youths mulling tax shelters, showing each other pictures of their cats and wearing those glasses with the rims that look like they're made out of the same stuff as George Will's fountain pens. Check out the young fogeys lining up to get into the Ha'Penny Lion on L Street every Friday night -- flaming youth has become microwaved stodginess.

In other words, the generation gap still exists. It seems that at the very moment middle-agers got things settled with their parents (remember a few years ago when we all had to call up our fathers and tell them we loved them?), they saw they still had problems with materialistic Republican reactionaries, except that the reactionaries were 20 years younger. Never trust anyone under 30.

Well, no. Not all young people. Not even most.

But enough of them are fogeys, obviously, that a 45-year-old can win the U.S. Open.

Should middle-aged people have to work this hard?

By this time in his life and career, Hale Irwin should be designing golf courses, which is what he did before he decided to try to win the Open again. Nolan Ryan should already have failed in a second career as a sportscaster. And George Foreman should be playing ping-pong with a neighborhood youth group, which is what he did for years before he realized that even at 263 pounds he could whip most, if not all, of the young men out there.

But no. It's as if the generation now in middle years had wished some foolish wish in a fairy tale or "The Twilight Zone," and would have to spend eternity getting what it had asked for. Imagine what old folks homes will be like in 30 or 40 years -- all the ancient hippies playing air guitar in their wheelchairs.

Being young nowadays is a big job. Only those with experience need apply.