So much in life is luck of the draw.

Yes, I believe strongly in the presence of a higher power, the benefits of clean living, making good choices and all that. Yet any two people who exhibit the same attitudes and aptitudes may reap entirely different results, and it all happens with a sense of randomness that leaves us scratching our heads.

I’m a fair-to-middling example of this phenomenon. From a gorgeous wife to a genius kid to great jobs, I’ve been either blessed or an overachiever. Some people stumble into stuff, while others slip and fall while chasing the same stuff with the same passion and good intentions.

There is no rhyme or reason to the results on life’s scoreboard. Fairness, that elusive concept that so many among us see as entitlement, doesn’t actually exist.

Sports are full of reminders that our mileage may vary.

Sunday’s insanely competitive final round of the British Open immediately takes a place near the top of the mountain. Forty-somethings Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson exchanged are-you-kidding-me shots and painted red numbers on the scoreboard as if it were an MSGA friendly at Fox Ridge.


Remember when 40 was old for a professional golfer, never mind one at the top of his game? It was 1986 when Jack Nicklaus (46) and Raymond Floyd (43) won the Masters and U.S. Open back-to-back. Hale Irwin (45) snuck in a major four years later. Sure, my being young made them seem older than dirt at the time, but those accomplishments rightfully were hyped as things that didn’t and shouldn’t happen and probably wouldn’t happen again.

To wit, Tiger Woods — remember him? — won what presently stands as his 14th and final major championship at age 32. Yes, we all know the cautionary tale. Bad back, balky knees, obligatory swing and coaching changes, questionable decisions involving women. Any one of those troubles in a vacuum could have derailed a career that was destined to carve its own Mount Rushmore with a putter and a 9-iron. Together, they were merely symptoms that time and the law of averages can catch up with the best of us. Even one among us who was presumed immortal.

But here was Phil, same age as the Golden Bear that Sunday afternoon at Augusta National when he strung together a few putts and made Verne Lundquist come unglued, bringing Royal Troon to its knees with bookend rounds of brilliance.

Now, let’s be honest and point out that Mickelson – and I can say this as a guy who makes certain types of shirt material appear ill-fitting – has always been a tad doughy. He’s not exactly an icon of wellness. The guy does commercials for arthritis medication, for Pfizer’s sake. He has not always used the best words or behavior regarding his money.

Like Tiger, Phil has failed to obscure his eminent humanity from us. So how was he standing spikes-to-spikes with eventual winner Stenson, a relatively peach-fuzzed member of the Geritol Gang at 40, while Woods was no closer to competing on the world stage than Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer? I don’t know. Why do some folks who smoke three packs and drink a fifth each day live to 95 and others who treat their body as a temple fail to make it out of their 40s?

Fate. Luck. Natural selection. A draw of the cards. The Man Upstairs. Ascribe it to whomever or whatever ye must. Just be aware, and appropriately humbled, that much of our quest for longevity in sports, our careers or our lives is beyond our control.


Tom Brady could be Exhibit 1A in this discussion. At the moment all the talk about TB12 pertains to his impending four-game suspension for his role in the dumbest controversy in the history of athletics. Once his time is served, mercifully the discussion will turn to the fact that Brady is a year away from turning 40 and playing quarterback in the NFL at a level no such geezer has achieved.

Granted, the guy is a monument to clean living. He eats nothing but tofu and granola and presumably goes home to an underwear model and their sickeningly perfect children every night.

Be real, though: Peyton Manning and John Elway weren’t on the Joe Namath workout program. Still, their bodies quit on them at the age when the body of a Hall of Famer at that position is supposed to crap out. Brady, meanwhile, has defiantly proclaimed that he will play another 10 years, and one look at him says that four or five seasons make sense.

Turn on the TV this summer and you’ll see David Ortiz — roly-poly and at least 40 — enjoying a career year in his farewell season. Or you’ll find Michael Phelps, the swimmer whose exposure to chemicals isn’t limited to chlorine, paddling his own Olympic records farther out of sight.

These things defy logic because they should. As another high-achieving old guy, Rod Stewart, once rasped, “Some guys have all the luck.” And on those rare occasions when they are able to couple it with timeless skill, it can be breathtaking to watch.

Kalle Oakes recently retired from the Sun Journal sports department after 27 years. He is three years younger than Phil Mickelson and is trying to grow old gracefully in Lexington, Kentucky. His email is [email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: