According to some of my wizened associates, reaching the milestone of 40 brings nothing but misery and grumbliness as the ravages of the ageing process and the inevitable onset of the mid-life crisis begin to take hold.
These crumbling colleagues obviously don’t play much golf.
The Royal & Ancient game may be dominated by the young pups, with their full-heads of hair, flat bellies and pain-free limbs that can effortlessly conjure a confident, youthful swagger instead of a grimacing hirple, but you can’t keep an old dog down.
If Darren Clarke’s Open Championship triumph at Royal St George’s in July gave the 40-somethings hope, then Thomas Bjorn’s recent double whammy on the European Tour will have had them reaching proudly for the Just For Men with added vigour.
A week after emerging from a five-man, five-hole play-off to win the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, the 40-year-old continued his renaissance in the Swiss Alps on Sunday and showed his class and durability with a spectacular closing round of 62 to set the seal on a rousing victory in the Omega European Masters.
In the first counting event of the qualifying points list for next year’s Ryder Cup in Chicago, Jose Maria Olazabal, the new European captain, must have been delighted.
With Bjorn plundering the ultimate honours in Crans-sur-Sierre, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy, both key members of the victorious 2010 side, securing second and joint third respectively, and Lee Westwood, another Celtic Manor linchpin, finishing sixth, Olazabal could hardly have asked for more from the opening leg of the marathon to Medinah.
It was Bjorn’s final-day performance, during which he equalled his lowest European Tour score, that provided the biggest sense of satisfaction. “You can’t write people off when they get past 40 because this game has so much to do with experience,” said a rejuvenated Bjorn, who has now barged his way back into the world’s top 30, barely eight months after he found himself languishing outside the leading 130.
At the start of the current campaign, some argued the Dane’s best days were behind him but he answered those sceptics with victory in February’s Qatar Masters. In his next nine events, though, he missed the cut five times, with his best result in that period being 15th in the Hassan Trophy in Morocco.
The anguish of losing his father in May certainly impacted heavily on Bjorn’s form but he emerged from that dark period with a spirited fourth-place finish in the Open.
It was the Gleneagles victory, coming after a disheartening two-week stint across the Atlantic in the Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship, that has kick-started the year. And, not for the first time in Bjorn’s career, a victory on Scottish soil has provided a springboard to the possibility of greater things.
After graduating from the Challenge Tour at the end of 1995, Bjorn won his first event on the main circuit the following year in the Loch Lomond World Invitational. That maiden win helped him to become the first Dane to play in a Ryder Cup, when he made his debut against the USA in the 1997 showdown at Valderrama.
After his most recent tartan triumph, as well as his Swiss success, Bjorn has every reason to believe that another Ryder Cup appearance can be added to the cv.
During the Johnnie Walker event, he was relentlessly asked about the captain’s post in 2014, the year the biennial bandwagon rumbles into Perthshire, but Bjorn is a man of the present. He is clearly in a very good place at the moment and is enjoying his new lease of golfing life at 40.
“That [the 2014 Ryder Cup] is three years down the line, and you know, my good golf is good enough to make a team,” said Bjorn, who last played in the Ryder Cup in 2002 and was a vice-captain in both 2004 and 2010. “You’ve got to just keep believing. You’ve got to work a little bit harder now and I’ve probably worked harder than I’ve ever done golf-wise both on and off the course to get here. To get that feeling that you can still compete is nice. It gives you a boost that, yes, I might be 40, but it’s not over yet.”
AND ANOTHER THING
David Law’s omission from the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team has certainly caused a stir but the talking will stop and the action will finally begin at Royal Aberdeen on Saturday.
It is now up to the chosen few to overcome a mighty United States side that features five of the world’s six top-ranked amateurs, and arrest a run of three successive losses in the biennial clash.
Nigel Edwards, the team captain, has said that the 10 men picked for the contest “represent the strongest group of amateur golfers that GB&I has to offer”.
Without the in-form Law, a matchplay specialist, a member of Royal Aberdeen and now the new Northern Open champion, that statement takes a bit of swallowing.