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COLLEGE STATION --

Age may be great if you're talking about wine or cheese, but in the world of professional golf, you rarely hit the green if you're gray.

That's the conclusion of a recent study by a Texas A&M statistics professor who has charted and graphed and proved mathematically what many have suspected - the older the PGA golfer, the less chance he has of being a big winner.

Dr. Scott Berry, through complex formulas and computations, has determined that almost all professional golfers peak between the ages of 30 and 35 - and after age 35, it's usually a case of double bogeys by the bag full.

For a paper titled "The Effects of Age on the Performance of Professional Golfer" published in Science and Golf, Berry studied the performance of 489 PGA players who have participated in at least one "major" tournament since 1935, when individual rounds started being officially recorded. His findings: Most pro golfers peak between the ages 30 to 35. After age 35, many show a dramatic decrease in their level of play.

"A player who is about 24 or one who is 43, neither of whom are not in their peak range, is usually about one full stroke worse than at age 35," reports Berry.

Berry determined that there are three phases of a pro golfer's career. Phase one is what he terms "maturation," when a player is still developing. Phase two is peak performance, which usually arrives at between 30 to 35, and the third stage is one of decline, when a player's game is markedly off his peak years.

"For some players, the decline starts at a later age," Berry says.

"Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Don January declined very slowly and their peak years lasted longer than most. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer had average rates of decline. But then you see someone like Seve Ballesteros or Johnny Miller, whose decline came very quickly after they reached 35.

"We don't know if injury contributed to their decline, but for some reason, they aged poorly."

Berry's statistics show that most 50-year-old PGA golfers are 2.8 strokes worse than at their peak. Age catches up with them sooner or later, usually sooner.

Berry says comparing players of different eras is difficult because the PGA only lists top money winners through the years and tournaments won. Snead, for example, won 81 times on the PGA tour but his career earnings were only $620,000. One player - David Duvall - won more than $900,000 for just one tournament win recently.

Total tour wins are not reliable barometers, Berry says, because tournaments today feature more quality players and the difficulty of a winning tournament is far greater than 40 years ago. For his statistical measurements, he used scoring average in major tournaments.

And with his scoring average model, he has figured up the top 100 all-time best players on the PGA tour (based on their play in a major tournament at the peak of their ability). Jack Nicklaus is rated No.1 with an average score of 69.96, just ahead of No.2-ranked Ben Hogan (60.45). Tom Watson is No.3 at 70.55, Palmer is No.4 at 70.72 and Gary Player No.5 at 70.94.

Other top ten in his ratings include Billy Casper, Nick Faldo, Byron Nelson, Snead and newcomer Justin Leonard. The PGA's all-time leading money winner, Greg Norman, is rated No.11, Lee Trevino No.12 and Tiger

Woods No.14. Concerning Woods, Berry notes that "the model shows that he is a great 23-year-old, but it also shows that he probably won't get much better. He's as good as he'll ever be right now."

Berry's scoring model also show the odds to win the Master's this week. They include Duval the favorite at 12 to 1, Woods at 16 to 1 and Davis Love III at 17 to 1. His model shows that last year's winner, Mark O'Meara, has only a 29 to 1 chance of repeating.

"The bottom line," Berry says, "is that in golf, it's very clear that age will overtake your ability. It affects some players differently than others, but ultimately, no one escapes the age factor."

For more information, call Berry at (409) 845-3141.

Contact: Keith Randall at (409) 845-4644.

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