Fans of the PGA Champions Tour know that senior golfers traditionally hit the competitive wall at 54 years of age. For those on the regular PGA Tour the number is around 44. For pro athletes in other competitive sports, it’s much earlier in life. Yesterday I turned 54.
For most people, life’s changes are gradual and the decline in performance is hardly noticeable. On October 19 of last year, I was playing a round on my local muni and walking as I usually do. Five or six times during the round I found myself completely out of breath, and in the need to stop and recover before continuing. Knowing something was definitely not right, I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. Long story short, I was referred to a cardiologist who put me through a battery of tests and diagnosed me with a condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is a hereditary disorder where the interior walls of your heart are thicker than normal and reduce the volume and capacity to pump blood. The primary symptoms are shortness of breath, fatigue, and lightheadedness, all of which I have been experiencing on a daily basis. There is no cure; you just treat the symptoms.
After my initial diagnosis, the doctor cleared me to practice and play out of a cart, but I was instructed to abstain from any competitive sports or from significantly elevating my heart rate. So I cut out all caffeine, alcohol, and tried to live life like a china doll. After a couple very frustrating weeks I decided to try a little chipping and putting along with a light range session, but that went poorly. Imagine the distraction of feeling dizzy over your putts and wondering if you were going to collapse with every swing. A few days later, I received some welcome news from a heart MRI that revealed no damage to my arteries so I wasn’t at risk for a heart attack.
This all coincided with my annual Veterans Day golf trip to the eastern shore and I decided to give it a shot, albeit with significant trepidation. So, three weeks after the initial diagnosis, and on the initial dosage of a beta blocker, I played three straight days riding in a cart. Day one was dizzy, day two was fine, and day three I felt like crap the entire round, as well as the whole following day. I have not played or practiced since, but have increased the medication dosage which has helped the symptoms somewhat but I’m a long way from what I’d call normal.
So how does golf fit in? I am passed the initial phase of wondering why this happened to me and feeling sorry for myself, and believe that you need to move forward in a positive manner. Also, there are other folks who clearly enjoy the game and struggle to participate for reasons of illness or disability. Some of our wounded veterans come to mind, and the courage they’ve shown after losing arms, legs, and what not, has been amazing and inspiring, so some perspective is in order. I am thankful that I can still participate, although it may not be to the level that I want.
Moving forward, I will try to manage the symptoms, drop a few pounds of holiday fat, and look forward to the start of the season as I always do. A reasonable goal is a walking symptom-free round by the end of April, then I can worry about scoring average and GIRs. I also understand that these beta blockers are not on the list of approved drugs on the PGA Tour because they keep you too calm, so when I finally get out there, I’m going to putt lights out! See you on the Super Seniors Tour real soon!