Drummond shows that sporting success can begin at 30

Last week, shortly after Nasser Hussain brought down the curtain on his cricketing career, citing impaired reflexes and deteriorating eyesight as reasons for retirement, Scott Drummond came bursting out of nowhere to win the PGA Championship. Hussain is 36, hardly old, Drummond is 30. The age gap isn't great but they were looking at life from a different perspective.

Last week, shortly after Nasser Hussain brought down the curtain on his cricketing career, citing impaired reflexes and deteriorating eyesight as reasons for retirement, Scott Drummond came bursting out of nowhere to win the PGA Championship. Hussain is 36, hardly old, Drummond is 30. The age gap isn't great but they were looking at life from a different perspective.

Hussain who had achieved most of his aims, including the captaincy of England, signed off with the flourish of a match-winning century against New Zealand. Drummond, emerging from hitherto unrewarded struggles to establish himself as a golfer of substance, suddenly broke through to the sunlight of heady prospect.

Of course, golf is a vastly different game from most others. Nobody is aiming a ball at your head or your rib cage. Hardly anyone needs crutches and the bleeding is all internal. The game is played at a walk and the most terrifying thing a golfer ever sees is a ball buried in deep rough. He doesn't need a gumshield or face cage. A golfer's idea of trauma is a scalped lie or a downhill putt. You don't have to run fast, tackle back, or knock anybody down. When a golfer says, "Something terrible happened to me yesterday," he means two over par. A "cut" is not a 20-stitcher over the eye or in a leg wound. The worst thing that can happen to you is, that you might have to remove your shoes to play out of a water hazard.

Golfers, Vijay Singh for example, can make fortunes on the regular tour in their forties. Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won his 18th major.

Age in sport intrigues me. Drummond is two years older than the World No 1 Tiger Woods who has eight majors to his name. He was out of nappies while Woods was still wearing them. Although Drummond's success at Wentworth is no guarantee of future career embellishment it only goes to show what perseverance can achieve.

Normally, when considering the athlete's tussle with time, we are broadly dealing with two elements. The first is physical. An athlete must be granted a good, durable body, and he'd better take care of it. Then there is emotion. How long can an athlete hold his passion to be an athlete? How long can he retain all his enthusiasm for repetitive experience?

Over much time I have explored concentration and distraction, in short how the athlete grows older. Thirty years ago, when Pele was coming under pressure from the highest office in Brazil to play in a fifth World Cup, we spoke at his home. He was still turning out for Santos and would extend his marvellous career by turning out for New York Cosmos. At 34, however, he understood the difference between vanity and pride. "The responsibility of appearing for Brazil is too great," I recall him saying. In a quarter-century of serious playing that was well under way before he emerged as a 17-year-old prodigy in the 1958 World Cup, his enthusiasm for the game had not waned but he knew there was a limit.

In August 1978, Muhammad Ali, then 36, fought a fight he really didn't want to fight. Ali won easily over Leon Spinks who had taken the heavyweight title from him exactly six months earlier, but a new sourness invaded his style. "It's murder how hard Muhammad has to work," said his trainer, Angelo Dundee.

The motivated athlete responds to the physical effects of age by conditioning himself more intensely. "That Spinks, he looks like Dracula, but he's only 25," Ali said in a house he had rented in a quiet suburb of New Orleans. "So I have to make myself 25. I've been running, real long, for weeks. I've done the mostest exercises ever, maybe 350 different kinds, so I could become the first man ever, in all history, to win back the heavyweight championship twice." In truth it was all over for Ali and had been for some time, his condition mainly cosmetic.

Sir Stanley Matthews became an FA Cup winner at 38 and and went on playing league football into his 52nd year. Having retired from race riding in 1985, and following a prison sentence for tax fraud, Lester Piggott pulled off a remarkable victory on Royal Academy in the 1990 Breeders Cup Mile at Belmont Park shortly before his 55th birthday.

But for the majority of athletes time rings with a coarse cadence. They measure pain against glory, risk against profit. They consider what is left of their bodies and then, I believe, they subconsciously decide whether they want to go on.

Hussain sensed it was time to quit. A rueful thought for him is that Drummond, younger by just six years, is contemplating a bright sporting future.

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