Golfers peak around 32, right? That's the cliche, uttered almost thoughtlessly by pros, coaches, media and fans alike. We've just kind of all come to accept that's the case.
But what if we're wrong? Or what if it's changing?
Well, like most cliches, there's an element of truth in this one -- if you look at the best male players in the world. Looking at the current Official World Golf Ranking top 10, the average age is 35.6 years. Compare that to the three preceding years at this time of year: 31.9 (2012), 30.4 (2011), 33.9 (2010). Having a pair of guys in their 40s -- Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson -- as well as two 37-year-olds in Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson in the top 10 has bumped up the average.
The Rolex Rankings, however, are, on the average, way younger.
The average age of the top 10 players in the ranking for the women's game is a decade younger, coming in at 25.5 years. Karrie Webb, 38, and Suzann Pettersen, 32, are the only players in their 30s on the list. Teenagers Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson have a bigger impact on the average, but the average age of a top-1o female player has held steady since this time in 2010. Three years ago, the average age was 24.2 years, jumping to 25.7 in 2011 and 26.1 last year.
There are broader reasons why this is the case, and they're well worth looking into, but from a statistical standpoint, the consistency in a younger-trending women's top 10 is primarily because many of the same players have remained in that upper echelon for three years now.
Two players, Pettersen and Na Yeon Choi, have been inside the top 10 for over three years now. Six others -- Stacy Lewis, Yani Tseng, I.K. Kim, Ai Miyazato, Jiyai Shin and Cristie Kerr -- have been in the top 10 for the better part of that 3-year stretch. With little fluctuation, the top 10 players in the women's game at the tail end of 2010 are the same as now.
Compare that to the fellas. Six men have been inside the top 10 for the last 3-plus years, but just Rory McIlroy was in the top 10 at the November checkpoints we used from 2010-13. Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood, Steve Stricker and Luke Donald were in the top 10 for three of these checkpoint dates. Westwood and Donald have fallen out of the top 10, with Woods' 2011 ranking the outlier for him. (Woods didn't lose his No. 1 ranking until Halloween 2010, so then began his precipitous fall before his phoenix return.)
It turns out that the top women of the game are perhaps more closely bunched at the top than their male counterparts for longer, doing so at a younger age. That suggests the women's game doesn't have quite the same parity we're seeing in the men's game, but there are a number of other influencing reasons why. We'll get into that in another post.