Because I am one year older than Tom Kite, I was rooting for him to win the Booz Allen Classic and become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history. I assume everybody over 50 in the country was rooting for Kite. But in my heart I didn't think Kite would win. I don't even think Kite thought he would win. There was something ominous in Kite's comment Saturday after the third round, when he joked that if this was the senior tour, he'd already have won. They play only three rounds at most senior tournaments. Surely, Kite suspected he didn't have a fourth straight great round in him anymore.
And he didn't. Kite missed a brace of short putts -- putts that most every tour golfer will hole easily. And he missed them early, taking himself out of contention well before the back nine beckoned like Sirens on the rocks. The great psychiatrist Sigmund Freud might have suggested Kite's subconscious was giving up before his conscious did.
I chalk this up to age. Kite is 55. We saw this with Jack Nicklaus in his mid-fifties, too. Great golfers of that age can still be great for one or two rounds, maybe even three. But they are no threat to win a four-round tournament against younger, stronger, psychologically sturdier players. Sergio Garcia is more equipped to win a tournament than Tom Kite is. That's just a fact. The older you are, the harder it is to go the distance. That's why you haven't seen many 50-year-olds win PGA tournaments.
Kite wasn't the only golfer to fold on Sunday. Great players Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson cashed it in early too. But age wasn't the reason they receded, as it was with Kite. Kite had more incentive to win that tournament than anybody out there with a chance. Obviously he had the game, or he wouldn't have been leading after three rounds. What happened to Kite was that he wore out. At 55 you're no longer built for endurance. You're the hare now, not the tortoise. You can sprint to a lead, and not hold it.
Age is relative. Mike Tyson, at almost 39, is nowhere near Kite's 55. But Tyson is old for a boxer. He looked to be in great shape, and said he was in great shape. But Tyson can't go the distance any more than Kite can. Tyson's flesh is willing. But his spirit isn't. He trains for quick fights, because subconsciously (maybe even consciously) he knows he can't sustain the interest and the will to go for 10 or 12 rounds anymore.
You saw what happened. Even though he was ahead, Tyson quit after six rounds. And this was after trying to break his opponent's arm and head butt him into oblivion. Tyson knew he had lost the will to win, so he tried to cheat his way into a quick victory. The least surprised guy at MCI Center when Mike Tyson lost was Mike Tyson.
Tyson and Kite are like a lot of athletes trying to hold on long after their skills have begun to fade. They want to win. They say they can win. They even think they can win. But they no longer have the determination they had as younger men. They get bored. They lose interest. I know. I do too. (Hey, would you like to go get some ice cream? Oops, I think I'm drifting now. See what I mean? Where was I?)
But while age will sap you physically and emotionally, it doesn't necessarily affect your intellectual powers. Larry Brown is 64, and most people think he's the best basketball coach in the NBA. He can't run an offense as the point guard anymore, but he can choreograph his players as well as ever. Frank Robinson is nearly 70, and probably as good a baseball manager as he's ever been. His mind is keen, and all his accumulated experiences are layered on top of one another like a reference library.
Okay, Robinson can no longer sprint angrily out to left field to argue with an umpire about a home run call. Robinson has to shuffle out there now, like he did a few weeks ago when he successfully got a homer taken off the board. The concession to age is all physical. But it's not that demanding to manage a game from a major league dugout with your wits about you. It's mid-June and Robinson has his team in first place by virtue of a just-ended 10-game winning streak.
The surest sign of getting older is when you start rooting for the coaches ahead of the players, because you can more readily identify with them. That happened to me at about 45. I find it hard to talk to athletes now, because they're so much younger than I am, and they have such different worldviews. It's like we're living in parallel universes.
It's been a while since I've seen anybody my age be in contention for anything other than a buyout. That's why I rooted so hard for Kite this weekend, even though I assumed in the end he would falter. I rooted for Kite in his dopey straw hat harder than I'd ever rooted for him when he was blind as a bat and wore those thick, oversized glasses. I felt terrible for Kite when he began missing those short putts. And to be honest, I felt terrible for me too. It's a bitter realization that you've come to an age when the best you can hope for is a graceful exit. Don't ask me to clap for Sergio Garcia. Okay, he's cute and personable. But come on, I have shirts older than him.