One reason why Charlie Mechem has done so much in his life is because he is having such a long one. At 90 he is still adding to his CV in the wake of a career in golf administration that began once he had retired as Chairman of Taft Broadcasting in 1989. Jack Nicklaus had recommended him for the role of LPGA Commissioner and, from the day he started in that capacity, he was in his element. His ready smile lit the entire organization. In his five years in office (1990-1995) he achieved the well-nigh impossible feat of being every bit as popular as Mike Whan, the most recent of the commissioners.
Next, this Yale-qualified lawyer answered Arnold Palmer’s call to serve as his consultant and advisor. He had an office next to Palmer’s at the Bay Hill club in Orlando where the door between the two was always open. Most mornings, Arnie would greet Charlie with a cheerful query along the lines, “Do I still have enough cash or am I going broke?”
Charlie had worked with Nicklaus long before he knew Arnie, one of the rare few who held close personal and professional relationships with both men. They first met in 1970 when Taft Broadcasting retained Nicklaus to design a golf course in Cincinnati and they have combined on a variety of projects since. Meanwhile, ever since Charlie finished his five years at the LPGA, players such as Nancy Lopez, Annika Sörenstam, Juli Inkster and Dottie Pepper have continued to call on him for guidance.
Charlie and I have stayed in touch across the years and it was less than a month ago that he rang to tell me of a letter he had received from a long-standing friend (he did not say whether or not he was a golfer) who wanted a handful of tips about life after 50. He recited a couple of them and, before he had gone any further, I asked if he could compile a similar list for Global Golf Post readers who might be approaching or be well into their “beyond-50” journeys.
Of course, he could.
By way of a prelude, he wanted to make plain that luck plays a major part. “I’m not sure that anyone has the secret to a good life after 50, but genes are critical,” he said. “I have been blessed with good ones in terms of longevity and for this I can take no credit. It is a gift from the Lord and, of course, my mother and father played their part.
“For sure, I have compared notes with golfers on the subject and how they feel in older age. Indeed, I certainly had these conversations with both Arnie and Jack and they were both very conscious of ‘the gene pool’ and its importance.’ ”
And so, here, at age 90, are Mechem’s Tips For Life After 50
1) It’s important to stay active. A good exercise regimen is important, but there’s no need to carry it to extremes. In my own case, I have found that about 30 minutes or so of exercise is enough when one reaches the 70s and 80s and, to me, stretching exercises are the best bet. Cardio is less important because when you have reached the age of 70 or 80, your heart must be pretty good or you wouldn’t have lived that long.
“Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness and maybe more so. All of the golfers with whom I have been close have kept their minds active.” – Charlie Mechem
Which brings me to your point, Lewine, about Gary Player having a practice regime which is at the other end of the spectrum to mine. I think you went on to say, “You can’t both be right.”
I have a huge admiration for Gary’s dedication and the example he sets. But my reply to that is that we can. Exhibit A is that he is still going in his 80s and I’m still going in my 90s. When I think of Arnie’s generation and even the golfers of the generation before him, “heavy” exercise was not part of their routine. Indeed, most of the golfers in the generation before Arnie felt that heavy exercise (lifting weights, etc.) was actually harmful to their golf game. I can’t say much about Arnie’s exercise routine in his early years because I didn’t spend a lot of time with him until he was in his 70s. Jack had an extensive exercise programme for many years and maybe still has.
2) Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness and maybe more so.
All of the golfers with whom I have been close have kept their minds active.
As applies with genes, you need some help from the Lord in this department. But assuming that your mental capacity remains strong and/or stable, the mind calls for exercise as much or more than the body. Two or three hours of it on a daily basis. It is, of course, easier said than done but my thinking is that you need to read newspapers and books, watch “intelligent” television and keep tabs on a series of websites that you like and respect. There is no “school solution” because over the last few years I have come to the conclusion that computer games, in terms of mental acuity, are probably as good as reading a book. For a variety of reasons (including my age) I much prefer the book option.
For another recommendation, it’s a good idea to stay in touch with young people. This sometimes takes a bit of effort on your part because, sadly, as one ages and moves into the “higher stratosphere,” more and more people simply do not stay in touch. Understand this and accept it, but I refuse to let it happen in my life. I remain in touch with a number of people and by making a special effort to stay in contact with younger friends (50 is young to me), I enrich my life enormously.
Golfers such as Juli Inkster, Helen Alfredsson, Annika Sörenstam, Dottie Pepper and others from their generation keep me “up to speed” on life and golf. Beyond that, I have two teenage grandchildren and I stay in close touch with both of them. I don’t totally understand the world in which they live but I love to talk to them about it and learn from them.
At this point I must mention my wife, Marilyn. We’ve been married for 67 years and she’s the person with whom I will have communicated more than any other. Where I’m particularly blessed, here, is that she’s been interested in the same things as I have while being my strongest critic.
3) Keep your sense of humour. It relieves tension and anxiety and makes you a much more pleasant person to be around. As you reach your 80s and 90s. you will have fewer friends as attrition slims the ranks. Don’t drive your remaining pals away by becoming a complainer and/or an old grump.
Since these tips are aimed at golfers, I believe that we should see more smiles and laughter from professional golfers and people in general for that matter. Of course, it shouldn’t be phony. Arnie was the ultimate role model here. He smiled and he laughed a lot. And it was at once genuine and infectious. If anyone wanted to truly pay tribute to Arnie, they should pay attention to his sense of humour and outgoing personality.
In a podcast I did with David Feherty not so long ago, we were totally agreed on the point that a sense of humour is critical and that “good” laughter will almost always make a problem easier to solve. “‘Bad” laughter, as we discussed, is humour made at the expense of another.
4) You asked me to mention some specific golf tips at some point. In this area, the two best lessons that I have learned from golfers both came from LPGA players, which is hardly surprising since I spent much more time with female golfers than male. Men will not always want to take advice from a woman, of course, but whether they like it or not they will often do better to take note of how a good woman plays.
My first memory of an important tip was when I was walking to the first tee in an LPGA pro-am and, as I approached the first tee, I saw a young player practising her putting. My confidence was hardly at a high and, without really expecting an answer, I called out an anxious “Please can you give me one word that would make it all work.”
The girl gave me a smile while hitting on the word “SLOW.”
“I definitely believe that the hard hitters, with their strong swings, will pay a price as they grow older.” – Charlie Mechem
I laughed, because I knew she was right. But I also knew that, as someone who had never been better than a 16 handicapper, I was probably incapable of taking her advice.
Another favourite lesson came from Meg Mallon. We were playing in a tournament in Toledo (Ohio) and, once again, I was down to play in the pro-am. What made this one worse was that the players’ locker room had a balcony that was close to the 10th tee. Not that I knew it when I took one of my slashing 200 miles per hour swings. Heaven knows where the ball went but Meg who was watching from the balcony was moved to yell, “Charlie, take it easy – it’s already dead.”
5) Hitting hard is maybe not what it’s cracked up to be.
I definitely believe that the hard hitters, with their strong swings, will pay a price as they grow older. I had this conversation with the late Mickey Wright when she was in her 80s and she was alarmed by the number of bandaged limbs today’s young players seemed to be nursing on a regular basis.
6) This final tip is about wisdom, which is something you can add to all your days. It’s really nothing more than an accumulation of experiences and remembering, like the professionals, that you can learn from the bad experiences as well as the good. How often do we hear the professionals saying something along those lines when, after a series of near misses, they suddenly have a win?
None of my thoughts are unique or particularly startling. But they are all things that I have worked hard to maintain and I recommend them to anyone, whatever their walk of life.
And by way of an afterthought, you don’t have to reach 90 to practice any of these points. Whenever you feel yourself getting lazy, whether it’s physically or intellectually, just do something about it.
Top: Charlie Mechem speaks during a Celebration of Arnold Palmer at Saint Vincent College on October 4, 2016. Photo: Hunter Martin, Getty Images
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