Not surprisingly, when PGA Tour players hit forty years old the wins start to become fewer and far between, and top 10 finishes occur with far less frequency. And by forty-five, the Champions Tour starts to look pretty attractive if the competitive juices are still flowing.
When Phil won the PGA Championship in 2021 at 51 years old, it sent shock waves through the golf world. A half century had passed since Julius Boros, the oldest to win a major before Phil, won the PGA in 1968 at 48 years old. And while Mickelson maintained his skills at a high level throughout his 40’s, he was still not the same player he was in his 30’s. Phil recorded 21 wins in his 30’s with a 37% top 10 percentage, but won only 6 times in his 40’s with a top 10 percentage of 22% (still very high).
Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer lead the list for wins on the Champions Tour (Irwin with 45 and Langer with 43), but even they did not come close to carrying the success they had when they were in their 30’s into their 40’s. In his 30’s, Langer recorded 18 wins on the European Tour (now the DP World Tour) and also won the Masters, but won only 9 times in his 40’s. And while Hale Irwin won the U.S. Open at 45, he recorded only 2 other Tour wins in his 40’s as compared with 13 wins while in his 30’s.
Players who actually got better in their 40’s are extremely rare, but Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry did exactly that—and seemingly defied the laws of nature.
Vijay was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, and with 3 major championships and 31 additional tour wins, he is among the top twenty players in golf history. Over the course of his career, Vijay made the cut in 87% of the tournaments he entered and finished in the top 10 over 35% of the time—but what really sets him apart is the age at which he recorded so many of those wins.
While in his 30’s, Singh recorded 11 wins, including 2 major championships while finishing among the top 10 in over 34% of the tournaments he entered. In his 40’s, Vijay won 23 times, including another major championship and ten major Top-10’s.
Most amazing is that Vijay’s top 10 percentage was over 37% from 40-49 years old, higher than it was in his 30’s—and no other player in the history of the game has performed at that level through his 40’s.
Vijay was always recognized as one of the greatest drivers of all-time, and he maintained his length and accuracy far beyond the boundaries of what mere mortals generally achieve. If his putting stroke had approached the level of his game tee-to-green, Singh would surely be smiling down from the Mt. Rushmore of golf alongside Jack and Tiger.
Kenny Perry turned 27 years old in August of 1987, his first full season on the PGA Tour—so his golf career got started quite a bit later than most. In his first 3 years, Kenny finished in the top 10 only 7 times in 85 starts, and he didn’t record his first Tour win until he was 31 (The Memorial in 1991).
In his 30’s, Perry won 3 times on Tour and made the cut in just over 68% of the events he entered, finishing in the top 10 just over 13% of the time (solid, but not among the top echelon on Tour). While Kenny had a very good year in 1998 at age 36 with a runner-up at the PGA Championship and 8 Tour top-10’s, his next 3 years were pretty mediocre as he failed to record a win and finished in the top 10 a total of 7 times.
But as the 3rd millennium arrived and Kenny turned 40, the flood gates suddenly opened and Perry rose like the phoenix, tacking on 11 additional tour wins and 4 major top 10’s.
From age 40-49, Kenny made the cut in over 84% of the tour events he entered and finished in the top 10 nearly 25% of the time—a massive increase from the numbers he recorded in his 30’s.
No player in Tour history ever elevated his game to such a degree after turning 40, and we rank Kenny Perry among the Top 100 players of all-time. Perry also won 10 times on the Champions Tour (including 4 Senior Major championships).