The cardinal rule of golf says that higher numbers are bad news. The caveat, strongly asserted at the Met Senior Open this week, is that the rule does not apply to age. You can be in your 70s and still shoot in the 60s.
Mal Galletta Jr., 71, did just that on Tuesday, when for the first time in a distinguished career, he shot better than his age. He had enough steam left on the 18th green at Garden City Country Club for a vigorous fist-pump after his birdie putt for a 68.
Shooting your age or better is rarer than a hole-in-one.
"I couldn't break it at 70, I couldn't break it at 69, I couldn't break it at 68," said Galletta, a retired head pro who once shot 65 at Bethpage Black and still teaches at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn.
He and others in the local major for golfers 50 and over -- an event won yesterday by Peter Busch, a pro from Kenilworth, N.J. -- are an object lesson for everyone who plans to keep playing golf after turning 50. Their advice began with, "Don't give up."
"Watch what you eat, keep yourself in shape, keep yourself toned. And keep the desire. At that age, it's not going to be what it used to be," Galletta said.
The milestone round Tuesday was a result of improved putting, which inspired this tip for fiftysomethings: "I would say, seriously, work on your short game. The average golfer does not have a good short game. And there's no reason why even at 50, 60, 70 that you can't improve your short game,'' Galletta said. "The long game, maybe it's tougher because you're not as flexible and all that stuff. But there's no reason why you can't get it close from 100 yards and in."
Mark Mielke, the head pro at Mill River, who turned 50 last month, put physical condition at the top of the list. "If you look at a lot of senior guys, their backswings are not nearly as wound up as they were when they were on the regular tour," he said after missing a putt on No. 18, which he needed to make the cut. "You're not nearly as flexible. If I stretch a bunch, I'm OK, I feel like I'm not 50. But if I go a few days without stretching, I feel like I'm 60."
Dennis Lynch, a 51-year-old amateur from Smithtown, attributed his par 70 Tuesday to two hours or more a week of short-game practice, a regimen interrupted last week when he took his daughter to Clarion University in Pennsylvania, where she will play on the golf team. "What really helped me this year was teaching her. It got me back to the basics," he said.
Fellow amateur Jon Doppelt, 52, who plays out of Fresh Meadow, said, "This is my winter to get in the gym and work out because I still have game."
Host pro Don Beatty said every golfer should warm up before he or she plays. That is especially true for seniors. "If you hit that first tee shot without warming up properly, you're not stretched out properly and you're going to likely make a short, quick swing. As we get older that tendency grows," he said.
The best thing is that golf has no mandatory retirement age. As Galletta said, "I saw my father, who played all those years. He was in good shape until he was 88."