By Andrew Both
(Reuters) - Stuart Appleby laments that his days are probably numbered on the PGA Tour, although the veteran showed signs of vigour with an impressive final-round charge before finishing joint second at last week's Barclays tournament.
The Australian was one of the longer hitters when he first joined the tour nearly two decades ago, but he struggles these days to keep up with the young bombers who routinely drive the ball more than 300 yards.
Age and a creaky back have taken an inevitable toll on the 43-year-old Appleby, who is a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour and a member of the exclusive club of players who have shot 59.
"The young guys just smash it and they would be happy to put us (older guys) off the tour," Appleby, who fired a six-under-par 65 at Ridgewood Country Club on Sunday to secure his best finish on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, told Reuters.
Of course, underlining how Darwinian the world of professional sport can be, Appleby himself used to be a young bomber who probably forced some of the older guys of the previous era off the tour.
"I went from top 20 in driving distance when I first came on tour to between 160th and 180th now," said the former Australian Rules football player.
"I've lost length from where my peak length was. Equipment has kept me going forward but my body has pulled me back a bit.
"I go out there and hit a cracking drive and I'm first to hit (my second shot). I was never first to hit. That takes its toll over four days."
Appleby has lost length only in a relative sense. His average drive on the 2013-14 PGA Tour travels almost exactly the same distance as it did during his first year on tour – 277 yards.
However, though he ranked 22nd in driving distance back in 1996, he languishes in 172nd spot this season.
Advances in equipment and the sheer athleticism of today's young players have helped many to become much longer off the tee while Appleby has stayed the same.
"The whole tour has ripped past me. I'm the one now getting kicked around the pen," said the son of a dairy farmer.
Yet experience and a sharp short game can help counteract the cruel ravages of time, and Appleby ranks 10th this year in putts holed from the all-important distance of five-to-10 feet.
The Australian goes into this week's Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of the four elite FedExCup playoff events, ranked 19th in the points standings and needs to remain in the top 70 to qualify for next week's BMW Championship.
Appleby fully accepts that his days on the U.S. circuit will end sooner rather than later, but he is clearly not going to fade away without a fight.
"The kids are getting bigger and more powerful but it still boils down to a mental game," he said.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)