There was something quite melancholy about Tom Watson’s slide into second place at the British Open. For a few beautiful days, it appeared that a golfer two months shy of his 60th birthday and sporting a replaced hip might win the tournament. Golf’s pundits and fans differed on “what it meant.” Many thought it would be terrific, since it’s not late breaking news that many weekend warriors of the game are middle aged. Then there were those concerned that a Watson win would make golf look too “retrolicious”, something akin to having a Willy Nelson CD top the pop charts. It would make golf look like it didn’t need young lions, if an older lion could still compete and win.
And so it seemed about Watson that one could look at it any number of ways… if he had won. “It would have been a hell of a story,” Watson said after it was over. “It wasn’t to be, and yes, it’s a great disappointment. It tears at your gut.” But despite what might have been the most watched outbreak of the “yips” in the history of golf, many will agree that in a way Watson did win. For a beautiful and sustained period, the older guy was gettin’ it done.
Which in and of itself may not prove jack about aging or that something different is emerging from the generation that is settling into midlife and soon enough … uh, let’s say “seniority.” But when Watson’s performance at Turnberry Scotland is pulled into the weave of such things as sky diving ex-presidents or women having babies later in life or even the sheer number of 60-plus rock and roll performers still hitting the road with regularity (I mean, regular appearances… oh, never mind…) then something begins to emerge about the parameters of age and the thresholds of accomplishment. Maybe I can’t argue that all of it is good, but I do think some of it contributes to the view that later life is becoming more available to those willing to live it.
Full disclosure: I’m no baby myself, although I’m saving the “reveal” on my actual age for the first column written after my brain has been connected to a computer and I become the eternal content provider I’ve always dreamed I would be. (Code name: “The Flame”) By that time, “newspaper” will probably relate to something delivered on your wristwatch. Please, everybody, sign up for that Santa Monica Mirror wristwatch technology as soon as we offer it.
Trust that I’m old enough to appreciate something like Tom Watson’s run at the British Open. Anyone familiar with golf knows that older amateur players will often stay with the game until they absolutely cannot and should not be be out on a golf course. And then, they’ll still go play golf. Usually in a foursome just ahead of you and your buddies. But there’s something beautiful about that, and there’s more and more of us who can appreciate it in a deeper way with each passing eye exam.
Still, of late there’s been a convergence of some kind. It’s not so much that age is going away as a barrier (40 year-old female Olympic swimmers) or even that accomplishment is feeling less restricted by age (Neil Young releasing a new CD, bringing his total to whatever that number is on the McDonald’s sign). The young people that made a culture out of their dissonance with and distance from their parent’s generation are refusing to accept definitions that confirm they now are the parent generation. They seek to stay in the game and be players, and to some degree they are being accepted.
This acceptance might have a lot to do with who has the money. Maybe older executives get involved with “hot” Internet concepts not so much because they bond with a digital future, but because they are needed to put up the capital. Golf equipment, such as drivers with a head the size of a pumpkin, bring playing enjoyment to the older golfers with the three hundred bucks to buy them. I’m still getting roundly beaten on public courses by teenagers with clubs they picked up at a yard sale. But they’re letting me play, complimenting an occasional putt and stiffling any “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” jokes when my ball remains lodged in a trap after three sandstorm-producing swings.
For several decades it felt like there was always going to be a real and tangible “generation gap.” Now there are events like Obama’s election and environmental actions that seem to bond generations in common goals. Even this terrible economy is pulling together the ranks of the unemployed, with citizens of all ages often in complete harmony when it comes to the Bush administration’s role in ruining things. There will always be spaces between generations, but right now one can experience a dramatic lessening of suspicion and keener interest between differing-aged parties. Unless the parties are loud because somebody’s parents are out of town. Nobody wants to be the old dude that says “Turn it down!”, and yet I’ve come dangerously close to playing that repugnant role.
Maybe we just like winners, and now we have more winners with some age on them. Following from that, it would be great if some of the barrier-breaking that seems to be taking place in sports would transfer over to other aspects of life. I don’t believe anyone should feel they have to dye their hair to present themselves for a job interview. If that continues, all of American business will look like Kenny Rogers and Joy Behar. To borrow from Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along… and look our age?” Everything old is new again, including being old. But the “New Old” generation is just getting warmed up. And they might introduce a few moves that are, in fact, new.