'Breaking 90' with ease, grace
Gary Player, golf's endless energy source, had a good January, bettering his age (71) twice and matching it once on the Champions Tour. Duffy Martin and Jerry DeRosa had good months, too, although the secret to their success is one full day at a time.
You may have missed the scores, but you ought to know their stories. Senior pros from all over the country come to Florida -- the ones who aren't snowbirding there already -- to defrost and compete in the TaylorMade-adidas Golf PGA Winter Championships. Age divisions begin with the newly AARP'd and climb in five-year increments until reaching the really remarkable: Group 9, Ages 90-94.
It was territory inhabited by only two golfers: Martin, 90, and DeRosa, who at 93 is the oldest active professional in the PGA of America. They squared off in two tournaments at PGA GC in Port St. Lucie, Fla., providing a new context for breaking 90.
"People think I'm about 65," said Martin, who lives in Guthrie, Okla., where he built and owns four courses. "I've got a young heart and a good attitude. I've got all kinds of Nautilus machines in my house. I work out twice a day. And I'll walk 300 yards uphill on the treadmill every morning and at night. I'm 6-feet-3 and weigh between 185 and 190 now, [the same as] I did when I was playing athletics in high school."
Martin's opponent is equally fit, the same 160 he weighed seven decades ago as a physical education major at Montclair State University in his native New Jersey.
"I put a towel on the edge of the kitchen sink and bend down and do 130 pushups a day," said DeRosa, who gives a golf clinic to fellow seniors each Monday at Riverbend CC in Tequesta, Fla. "If I don't play golf, I hit balls for two or three hours a day. It's a bushel of balls. I go after it. This 'Duffy' guy, he whacks it, and I whack it, too. The only thing is, he doesn't have this pernicious anemia to deal with."
DeRosa doesn't hit the ball as far as he did before he became anemic five years ago, and youth and power won out in the Quarter Century Championship and Senior Stroke Play. Martin, who can drive the ball 250 yards, shot 83-86--169 to beat DeRosa by 14 strokes in the former, and 80-82-90--252 to clip him by 21 in the latter. But DeRosa, whose tee shots go 150 yards, got a measure of satisfaction in the final round of the second event when he shot an 85, his best score in several years.
"I was outclassed the first two rounds," DeRosa said, "but my putts started dropping the last day."
For two guys still competing at their ages, their scores are a distinction without a difference. Martin grew up on a farm, one of 10 kids. Now he lives adjacent to the 11th hole of his Cedar Valley course in a 6,000-square-foot house.
"Every day's a holiday, to tell you the truth," he said. "If I ever got anything new growing up, I had to make money and buy it. Otherwise it was hand-me-downs."
DeRosa shagged balls for 1915 U.S. Open champion Jerome Travers when he was a boy. When he is teaching today, he keeps his instruction simple, a la his teaching hero.
"Harvey Penick was my man," DeRosa said. "I believe in letting people swing their natural way. When they go out to play, they're not going to swing like they did on the range anyway. They're going to be tight because they've got a scorecard in their hand, or they've got someone in the group they don't like, or whatever. I tell 'em when they're on the range to imagine they're on the course."
The rub of the genes has worked for both men. Both of Martin's parents lived to 95.
"My dad was 87," DeRosa said. "Mother had diabetes bad and died when she was 72. But I had a grandfather who lived to 99 and had all his teeth except one. Would you believe that? I asked my dad, how come? He said it was all those vegetables that we ate -- escarole and spinach. I love spinach. People think I'm nuts, but I love it."
Martin leads a similarly healthy lifestyle.
"I tell people to stay away from the whiskey and cigarettes and play golf every chance they get," he said. "If people will play more golf and exercise, age is just so many numbers."
Not that he isn't planning for the inevitable.
"My cemetery's here, right in back of my house," Martin said. "I've got my place. I've got a big monument for my wife [Juanita, who died in 2005]. Hell, LBJ down on the Perdernales River hasn't got me bested."
For now, the men count their blessings and keep their clubs in the trunk.
"The doctor said I'm good for at least seven years," said DeRosa, who had just returned from the PGA Merchandise Show.
Another Monday was right around the corner.
"I had 27 students last week," he said. "I'm sure I'll have at least 30 this Monday unless it's extra cold or something. They say, 'How do you feel, Jerry?' I say, 'I feel perfect. How do you feel?'"
Bill Fields is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.